Jay Leno,  NBC

NBC Saves Jay Leno and WILL Cut Other Programming

Battle of the Jaywalk All-Stars Part II, December 3, 2008

NBC will offer up the 10 PM programming slot to Jay Leno this summer as he leaves the Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien.

NBC appears prepared to hand over the troublesome 10 o’clock weeknight slot to Jay Leno as the company barrels through a painful restructuring brought on by low ratings and a bad economy.   

Leno, the soon-to-be-exiting “Tonight Show” host who’s been making rumblings about heading to ABC or elsewhere, will apparently do a nightly prime-time show. This will keep Leno in the NBC fold after Conan O’Brien takes over “Tonight” next year.

A 10 p.m. Leno show would be high-risk, especially if the host generates viewing levels no higher than the 5 million or so who tune in to watch “Tonight.” But such a program would presumbly be relatively low-cost and would thus help NBC balance the books in a difficult economic environment. The move probably signals an end, at least for now, to NBC’s ambitious and costly 10 p.m. dramas. “ER” is ending its run this season, and new efforts like “My Own Worst Enemy” have failed to find viewers.

At an investment conference today, NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker said that the company’s flagship network may trim its programming because of the poor economy.

“Can we continue to program 22 hours of prime time? Three of our competitors don’t,” Zucker was quoted as saying. “Can we afford to program seven nights a week? One of our competitors doesn’t. All of these questions have to be on the table. And we are actively looking at all of those questions.”

This is a smart move by NBC.

They save Jay Leno from being poached by Fox or CBS (to replace the tired and worn out David Letterman) and avoid the high production costs of 10 PM dramas that lately have struggled on NBC.

So, NBC will try this for the summer, much like the original Dick Cavett Show on ABC (of course more light-hearted content) and if it works then NBC can move its one or two successful 10 PM shows like Law and Order SVU to to other time slots and fill their schedule.

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