Pop Culture

Jay Leno staying at NBC, moving to 10 p.m.

Comedian Jay Leno will host a new prime-time television talk show five nights a week in 2009 on struggling network NBC after his planned retirement from his popular late-night program “The Tonight Show,” NBC said on Tuesday.

The new one-hour show will air at 10 p.m., making it the first-ever program of its type to air five nights a week on prime-time U.S. TV and marking a shift in the way NBC programs the most lucrative period for TV advertising revenue.

“It just seems like after 17 years of being on ‘The Tonight Show’, it’s fun to try something different,” Leno, 58, told a news conference.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

Leno’s future had been in question since NBC surprised the TV business four years ago by announcing he would step down from “Tonight” in May 2009, to be replaced by Conan O’Brien, who currently hosts NBC’s “Late Night” show that follows Leno.

NBC executives told journalists the deal fulfilled two goals --keeping the popular comedian in the NBC family and stopping him from competing against them on another network.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Justin Lubin / Episodic

    Image: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

    A look at Jay Leno’s comedic career, including his work as “Tonight Show” host and philanthropy.

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    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    Happy to be back

    Jay Leno basks in the glow as he returns to "The Tonight Show" at the NBC studio in Burbank, Calif., on Monday, March 1. "It's good to be home,” he said as he began his monologue. "I’m Jay Leno, your host. At least, for a while."

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  • Image:  Lindsey Vonn during an interview with host Jay Leno on March 1, 2010

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    Golden girl

    Olympic gold medal winning skier Lindsey Vonn chats with Leno during his first night back on "The Tonight Show" on Monday, March 1. "Did you see her?" Leno marveled. "When it comes to going downhill, nobody is faster. OK, except NBC."

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  • Image: Jay Leno Show

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    10 spot

    Leno tapes the inaugural episode of NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" in Burbank, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2009.The host broke new ground on broadcast television with the launch of the show at 10 p.m. -- a timeslot normally reserved for scripted programming. The show, however, failed to attract viewers and NBC pulled the plug on its "Leno experiment" on Jan. 11, 2010.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • Conan O'Brien, who inherited the "Tonight Show" desk from Leno, was Leno's final guest on Friday, May 29, 2009. Leno told him he was the perfect choice as a replacement.

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    The torch is passed

    Conan O'Brien, who inherited the "Tonight Show" desk from Leno, was Leno's final guest on Friday, May 29, 2009. Leno told him he was the perfect choice as a replacement.

    NBC via AP / NBC via AP
  • Jay Leno performs his stand-up act during a Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Mass., in 2008. Despite his "Tonight" commitment, Leno continues to do stand-up around the country.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    Still doing stand-up

    Jay Leno performs his stand-up act during a Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Mass., in 2008. Despite his "Tonight" commitment, Leno continues to do stand-up around the country.

    AP / AP
  • Leno and wife Mavis pose during the cocktail reception at the 30th anniversary Carousel of Hope Ball to benefit the Barbara Davis center for childhood diabetes on Oct. 25, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The couple married in 1980.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    An evening out with the missus

    Leno and wife Mavis pose during the cocktail reception at the 30th anniversary Carousel of Hope Ball to benefit the Barbara Davis center for childhood diabetes on Oct. 25, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The couple married in 1980.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Sen. John McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Nov. 11, 2008. It was McCain's first public appearance since losing the presidential election to Barack Obama on Nov. 4.

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    Post-election chat

    Sen. John McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Nov. 11, 2008. It was McCain's first public appearance since losing the presidential election to Barack Obama on Nov. 4.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • Leno films an installment of his popular Jay Walking segment for "The Tonight Show." In the segment, he picks random strangers on the street and asks them questions about history and current events to often very funny results.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    Jay Walking

    Leno films an installment of his popular Jay Walking segment for "The Tonight Show." In the segment, he picks random strangers on the street and asks them questions about history and current events to often very funny results.

    Splash News / Splash News
  • Chris Rock appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Sept. 9, 2005, to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Leno was using to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The motorcycle, which was auctioned on eBay, sold for $1.5 million.

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    Show him the money

    Chris Rock appeared on "The Tonight Show" on Sept. 9, 2005, to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Leno was using to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The motorcycle, which was auctioned on eBay, sold for $1.5 million.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • Leno leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., on May 24, 2005, after serving as a defense witness in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial. As part of a gag order issued during the trial, Leno was barred from making jokes about the singer in his "Tonight" monologues. After NBC challenged the order, the judge amended it, allowing the host to joke about Jackson as long as the jokes didn't relate to his testimony.

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    For the defense

    Leno leaves the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., on May 24, 2005, after serving as a defense witness in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial. As part of a gag order issued during the trial, Leno was barred from making jokes about the singer in his "Tonight" monologues. After NBC challenged the order, the judge amended it, allowing the host to joke about Jackson as long as the jokes didn't relate to his testimony.

    Pool via Getty Images / Pool via Getty Images
  • Oprah Winfrey came to Burbank to help Leno celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Tonight Show" with a cake commemorating its hosts from past and present.

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    Happy anniversary

    Oprah Winfrey came to Burbank to help Leno celebrate the 50th anniversary of "The Tonight Show" with a cake commemorating its hosts from past and present.

    NBC via Getty Images / NBC via Getty Images
  • In 2004, it was announced that Conan O'Brien, left, would succeed Leno as host of "The Tonight Show." Leno's last show as "Tonight" host was May 29, 2009.

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    This 'Tonight' successor

    In 2004, it was announced that Conan O'Brien, left, would succeed Leno as host of "The Tonight Show." Leno's last show as "Tonight" host was May 29, 2009.

    WireImage / WireImage
  • Leno introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger at his victory celebration at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after the actor was elected governor of California in a special recall election on Oct. 7, 2003. Schwarzenegger had announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show."

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    A mind for politics

    Leno introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger at his victory celebration at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after the actor was elected governor of California in a special recall election on Oct. 7, 2003. Schwarzenegger had announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show."

    Corbis / Corbis
  • Jay Leno served as Grand Marshal at "Love Ride 19" on Nov. 10, 2002, in Glendale, Calif. The event benefited Reading By 9 and other charities.

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    A pause for the cause

    Jay Leno served as Grand Marshal at "Love Ride 19" on Nov. 10, 2002, in Glendale, Calif. The event benefited Reading By 9 and other charities.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Hugh Grant appeared on at "The Tonight Show" shortly after being arrested for soliciting Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown in 1995. Leno famously asked the actor, "What were you thinking?"

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    'What were you thinking?'

    Hugh Grant appeared on at "The Tonight Show" shortly after being arrested for soliciting Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown in 1995. Leno famously asked the actor, "What were you thinking?"

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Leno spoke to the audience in lieu of his regular monologue during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001. This was the first show to be telecast after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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    A time to laugh

    Leno spoke to the audience in lieu of his regular monologue during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001. This was the first show to be telecast after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Leno, center and singer Elton John, left, looked on while then-New York Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn surprises his girlfriend, actress Angie Harmon, with a marriage proposal during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Monday, March 13, 2000. Her answer was "Yes."

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    An 'ahhh' moment

    Leno, center and singer Elton John, left, looked on while then-New York Giants defensive back Jason Sehorn surprises his girlfriend, actress Angie Harmon, with a marriage proposal during the taping of "The Tonight Show" on Monday, March 13, 2000. Her answer was "Yes."

    NBC via AP / NBC via AP
  • Jazz great Branford Marsalis, right, served as musical director during Leno's first three years as "Tonight" host. Marsalis left the show in 1995.

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    Horning in

    Jazz great Branford Marsalis, right, served as musical director during Leno's first three years as "Tonight" host. Marsalis left the show in 1995.

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  • Leno poses with one of his many motocycles. An avid collector, he auctioned off a Harley-Davidson autographed by celebrity "Tonight Show" guests in 2001 to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    Hog heaven

    Leno poses with one of his many motocycles. An avid collector, he auctioned off a Harley-Davidson autographed by celebrity "Tonight Show" guests in 2001 to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Leno made a guest appearance as a biker on the TV series "Alice," playing alongside Vic Tayback, right, and Linda Lavin. Leno has a passion for motorcycles in real life, and a large collection to show for it.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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    Bringing his passion to the small screen

    Leno made a guest appearance as a biker on the TV series "Alice," playing alongside Vic Tayback, right, and Linda Lavin. Leno has a passion for motorcycles in real life, and a large collection to show for it.

    CBS via Getty Images / CBS via Getty Images
  • Leno made a guest appearance on "Laverne and Shirley" in 1979, working alongside series stars Cindy Williams, left, and Penny Marshall.

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    Jay Leno -- actor

    Leno made a guest appearance on "Laverne and Shirley" in 1979, working alongside series stars Cindy Williams, left, and Penny Marshall.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Jay Leno made his first "Tonight Show" appearance in 1977, joining host Johnny Carson, right, and Ed McMahon, left, on the couch. Leno would become Carson's regular substitute host in 1987 before taking the helm of the show in 1992.

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    A taste of his future

    Jay Leno made his first "Tonight Show" appearance in 1977, joining host Johnny Carson, right, and Ed McMahon, left, on the couch. Leno would become Carson's regular substitute host in 1987 before taking the helm of the show in 1992.

    NBC via Everett Collection / NBC via Everett Collection

Leno is America’s favorite late-night TV chat show host with an average 4.8 million viewers this season, and he regularly beats CBS rival David Letterman in ratings.

NBC, which lags its rivals in fourth place among the major U.S. networks, said the move to prime-time TV would bring Leno a new audience in the earlier time slot.

“Clearly, today’s viewers have an appetite for live, topical programming, and that’s what we’re bringing to primetime,” said Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment.

The new show, initially titled “The Jay Leno Show”, will start in the autumn and will showcase many of the features that late-night viewers are familiar with, including Leno’s opening monologue and comedy segments “Headlines,” “Jaywalking” and “Battle of the Jaywalking All-Stars.”

Leno said the exact format was still being worked out but there would be a live audience in the Burbank studio outside Los Angeles, and possibly more stunts outside the studio.

The five-day format will help NBC reduce its prime-time development and production costs in a tough economy. Leno said it would probably cost the network as much for him to do five shows a week as it would for one hour of scripted comedy or drama programming.

NBC said the earlier time should appeal to advertisers by attracting more viewers who watch the show in real time, rather than recording it and skipping through commercials.

Graboff said advertisers would get 46 weeks of original programming at the 10 p.m. hour of a show which is “totally DVR (digital video recorder) proof”.

Asked what he would have done if he had failed to reach a deal with NBC, Leno replied;

“There were reports that I was going to go to ABC. But that was started by a disgruntled employee — me.”

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