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NBC Gambles Big With Jay Leno In Prime Time
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NBC Gambles Big With Jay Leno In Prime Time

Television

NBC Gambles Big With Jay Leno In Prime Time

NBC Gambles Big With Jay Leno In Prime Time
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112711707/112805064" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Jay Leno i

Jay Leno, shown with Jillian Barberie on the set of the Tonight Show in January, takes his act to prime time beginning Sept. 14. NBC Universal/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption NBC Universal/Getty Images
Jay Leno

Jay Leno, shown with Jillian Barberie on the set of the Tonight Show in January, takes his act to prime time beginning Sept. 14.

NBC Universal/Getty Images

In the TV industry, Jay Leno's move from late night to prime time, which takes place at 10 p.m. Sept. 14, is the most talked about event of the year.

The Jay Leno Show promises to mix new segments with old favorites from the Tonight Show, including the monologue and "Jaywalking," Leno's popular street interviews.

Hollywood insiders have called Leno's move "radical," "unprecedented" and possibly a "watershed moment in prime-time programming." It also happens to be a big gamble for NBC, which is promoting the show everywhere — on billboards, bus shelters, popcorn bags, TV and the Web.

Currently in last place in the ratings, NBC stands to save money from the move because the scripted dramas that currently dominate the 10 o'clock hour are really expensive, and the network can produce five hours of Leno for what it would cost for one hour of drama.

But it remains to be seen whether Leno's loyal late-night audience will tune in earlier, and there are other challenges as well. Scott Carter, the executive producer of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, points out that taping five new shows a week, 40 to 44 weeks a year, will "eat up a lot of guests."

In addition, the competition to get A-list celebrity guests — which was already fierce between Leno and rival late-night host David Letterman — is likely to be even stiffer with new Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien in the mix.

Also, Leno will air just before the local news, which could prove tricky for the host and his comedy writers.

"You could have this great funny joke, and viewers are laughing and then all of a sudden the news comes on and it's 20 people dead," says Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president of audience analysis for the advertising agency Carat.

Brill is also skeptical that Leno's new time will produce the ratings NBC is desperately hoping for, because the 10 p.m. drama is a formula so entrenched on the broadcast networks that the arrival of a comedian will be a shock to the system. She says it's good that the network is taking a risk, but she warns that "it certainly won't outperform what's on the other networks."

Still, Brill adds, "it'll do well enough for NBC to make money."

In the end, nobody really knows how completely changing the menu on prime time will work. But Leno has faced stiff competition before, and Carter predicts that the battle plan this time around — which includes first-week guests Jerry Seinfeld, Kanye West, Tom Cruise, Halle Berry and Miley Cyrus — will result in "one heckuva launch."

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