Confirmed: NBC to Strip Leno of 10 p.m. Slot

NBC said it would strip The Jay Leno Show of its 10 p.m. time slot, ending a hugely disappointing programming experiment for the network, but setting into play considerable confusion about the ultimate configuration of its late-night lineup.

The slate isn’t official yet, but the plan is to pare down Leno to 30 minutes and move it to 11:35 p.m. The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien will move to 12:05 a.m. (if, of course, Leno and Conan don’t bolt from the network), followed by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon at 1:05 a.m. What that means for Last Call with Carson Daly is uncertain.

“I can confirm that starting Feb. 12, Jay Leno will no longer air at 10 p.m.,” said Jeff Gaspin, NBC Universal Television Entertainment president. “While it was performing at acceptable levels, our affiliates were unhappy. My goal right now is to keep Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon as part of our late-night lineup. As much as I’d like to tell you we have a done deal, we know that’s not true.”

Let’s be honest, had Leno’s performance been “acceptable” it would not be smack in the middle of what is arguably the biggest fiasco in the history of television. Since Leno flopped at 10 p.m., a half-hour version is unlikely to fare any better at 11:35 p.m. Don’t forget that Leno was initially sampled by over 18 million viewers on Sept. 14, which means that about three out of four viewers probably did not like what they saw.

A better idea would be to give Leno back The Tonight Show, set Conan free and try to pick up the pieces. An institution like The Tonight Show will not benefit by moving to 12:05 a.m.

“I don’t think it’s wrong to take chances,” said Gaspin. “I think you have to take chances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.  But I still think you’ve got to play with your schedule a little bit differently than you have traditionally. And I think you’ll see us, maybe not as much in the next three months, because I don’t have as much to work with, but I think by the fall, you might see us try some interesting stuff with the NBC schedule.”

There is no news, meanwhile, about what show would step into the Monday to Friday 10 p.m. hour.  Dateline and repeats of the Law & Order franchise are the top contenders (including USA’s Criminal Intent), while returning (but low-rated) Friday Night Lights is available as of March 1.  Also in contention is a new drama called Rex Is Not Your Lawyer with David Tennant of Dr. Who fame.

As for prime time, this season is a bust. Any potential moves at 10 p.m. are nothing more than “Band-Aid” maneuvers. But NBC does have scripted projects in development including:

• Chase: a new action-procedural drama from the very busy Jerry Bruckheimer.

• The Event: an average man battles against mysterious circumstances that develop into a large conspiracy.

• Kindreds: a curmudgeonly ex-patent lawyer and his group of misfit associates form an unconventional law practice in this new drama from David E. Kelley.

• Love Bites: an hour-long romantic comedy.

• Prime Suspect: the story of a courageous female detective who investigates complex mysteries in a politically explosive city.

• The Rockford Files: a remake of the classic 1974-80 detective drama.

• The Undercovers: a domesticated husband and wife return from years of retirement as CIA agents in this J.J. Abrams drama.

• Untitled Adam Carolla project with Carolla as a contractor who sets to re-build his life following a divorce.

NBC, in addition, has expressed interest in a new Law & Order set in Los Angeles.