Pop Culture

NBC ending Leno’s nightly prime-time show

NBC said Sunday it decided to pull the plug on the Jay Leno experiment when some affiliate stations considered dropping the nightly prime-time show, and the network is waiting to hear if Leno and "Tonight" host Conan O'Brien accept its new late-night TV plans.

NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin said that "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m. EST will end with the Feb. 12 beginning of the Winter Olympics, which will air in the prime-time hours, including Leno's slot.

NBC wants to begin airing Leno's show at 11:35 p.m. after the Olympics end Feb. 28, but with a half-hour show, Gaspin said.

The plan calls for O'Brien to retain his job with "Tonight" but at the later hour of 12:05 a.m. EST, Gaspin said. Also in the mix is Jimmy Fallon and his "Late Night." Fallon's show would be pushed a half-hour later as well, to 1:05 a.m. EST.

"My goal is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy as our late-night lineup," Gaspin said, adding later that they "have the weekend to think about it" and discussions with them will resume Monday.

He said the proposal gives Leno what's important to him — telling jokes at a later hour — and O'Brien his top priority, retaining "Tonight."

"I hope and expect that before the Olympics begin, we'll have everything set. I can't imagine we won't have everything in place before then," Gaspin told a meeting of the Television Critics Association.

Comics already joking about issue
Both Leno and O'Brien made comedic hay out of the issue last week. Leno joked in his monologue that NBC was working on a solution in which all parties would be treated unfairly, while O'Brien wisecracked that he and Leno would be thrown by the network into a pit to fight and "the one that crawls out gets to leave NBC."

  • 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.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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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.

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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.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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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.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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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.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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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.

    Jay Leno, ‘Tonight’ and beyond

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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

Gaspin said he's "perfectly fine" with their on-air remarks "if that's how they blow off steam and that's how they're comfortable."

NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and its "Weekend Update" with Seth Meyers also got into the act.

"It was reported Thursday that in the wake of poor ratings for ‘The Jay Leno Show,' NBC will move his show back to the 11:35 time slot, and then start Conan O'Brien's ‘Tonight Show' at midnight — though it's a little weird to start the ‘Tonight Show' at a time when it's no longer tonight," Meyers said Saturday.

Gaspin said that despite lower ratings for NBC at 10 p.m. compared to last year, the network was making money off the show.

But affiliates were upset that it was leading fewer viewers into their late news programs, costing them significant advertising revenue. Some affiliates told NBC in December they would go public soon about their complaints if a change wasn't made, or even take Leno's show off the air.

Gaspin said about one-third of the affiliates were really hurt by the Leno show, although he wasn't clear on how many said they might pre-empt his show.

"I asked them (the affiliates) how many are they talking about, because I could have lived with one or two. But I got the sense that it was more than one or two," he said.

He pondered combinations of possible schedule changes before the holidays and then called his boss, NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Zucker, for approval to act.

"I don't want to wait anymore. Now is the time," Gaspin recounted telling Zucker.

Shift will leave prime-time holeAsked if O'Brien and Fallon expressed anger at his proposal, Gaspin said both men were professional and understanding when they talked. "Beyond that, it was a private conversation," Gaspin said.

O'Brien reportedly has a contract that guarantees him a multimillion-dollar payment if "Tonight" is moved later than 12:05 a.m. EST.

But Gaspin, asked if a contractual penalty weighed into the decision to bump O'Brien's show a half-hour rather than a full hour, replied, "No, not at all."

As for reports that Fox may be considering courting O'Brien for a late-night program, Gaspin repeated his desire to keep him, Leno and Fallon at NBC.

The decision to shift Leno will leave a gaping hole in NBC's prime-time schedule, at a time the network is already struggling. A mix of reality programming, "Dateline NBC" and at least two hours of scripted shows will be added to fill in the five hours taken up by Leno's prime-time show each week.

Looking ahead to the 2010-11 season, NBC announced seven drama pilots under development, including an updated version of "The Rockford Files" from "House" executive producer David Shore; "Undercovers," a husband-wife spy drama from producer J.J. Abrams ("Lost") and "Prime Suspect," based on the BBC series about a female detective.

The network's heavy development slate is a reversal of its most recent approach of attempting to make series without pilots.

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