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Jay Leno, seen here in April 2009, has been the subject of massive speculation over the past several days.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
NBC confirmed for critics today that The Jay Leno Show will no longer be airing in prime time as of February 12.
NBC Entertainment president Jeff Gaspin took the stage at the Television Critics Association press tour and, without waiting for a question, immediately confirmed that Leno's show will leave the 10 p.m. slot, but wasn't able to say exactly what would happen after that. Gaspin confirmed that, as has been widely reported, he has proposed that Leno move to 11:35 p.m. for a half-hour show, followed by Conan O'Brien at 12:05 (doing what what would still be called The Tonight Show), followed by Jimmy Fallon at 1:05. Because the hosts involved are still considering the plan — Gaspin wouldn't comment on which of them, if any, had agreed to it thus far — he said that "talks are still ongoing" and nothing is final.
How it happened, and what NBC has planned to fill the gaps, after the jump.
Gaspin attributed the decision to concerns expressed by the network affiliates about drop-offs in ratings for their local newscasts at 11:00 p.m., but claimed that from the network's perspective, Leno was performing just fine despite low ratings, in the sense that the show was making money. He also denied that viewers rejected The Jay Leno Show because they didn't like it, saying instead that between other offerings around the dial and the option to catch up on recorded shows on the DVR, "There were just so many other choices that people thought were better."
Asked why the affiliate problems weren't anticipated by NBC when they had been widely speculated about as soon as the Leno prime-time show was announced, Gaspin said that both the network and the affiliates had done research that showed that the effects on the affiliates would be less severe than they actually turned out to be.
Gaspin was also asked whether the network gave any thought to overhauling Leno's program as opposed to making such a drastic change to the schedule after only a few months, particularly given the fact that NBC said all along that the show would make money based on a 52-week cycle in which it would do better in the summer when other shows were in reruns. He said that they didn't think there was a lot more to be done with the show, because of the need to allow Leno to do the kind of show he's comfortable doing, which Gaspin stressed was an important element of working with late-night hosts across the board.
This opens up five hours of prime-time real estate on NBC at 10:00 p.m., which Gaspin said would eventually be filled, he predicted, with some combination of at least two hours of additional scripted shows, an additional hour of reality, perhaps an expanded Dateline, and some repeats. Because this is happening so quickly, the scripted shows may not be in place in time to fill the schedule this spring, and may not appear until fall, though Gaspin and prime-time executive Angela Bromstad mentioned that the network does have one early pilot starring Doctor Who's David Tennant, called Rex Is Not Your Lawyer, which might appear this spring or might be delayed until fall.
Critics also asked about the network's well-regarded Friday Night Lights, which is produced with DirecTV in an unusual arrangement that calls for it to be broadcast first on DirecTV and then months later on NBC. The show's fourth season is currently airing on the satellite network, and Gaspin said it could theoretically be available to NBC as soon as March 1 under the agreement, but it wasn't at all clear that it would actually be scheduled then.
In the end, Gaspin maintained that the network still has strengths in the news division and is excited about carrying the Olympics, but acknowledged that "everyone knows we're struggling in prime-time." While there are successes like The Biggest Loser and the critically praised Thursday night comedy block to point to, Gaspin put it simply: "Beyond that, we've got to work harder."