NBC Eyes Moving Leno Back To Late Night
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The TV industry is abuzz over what NBC will decide to do with Jay Leno. He's been surfing the bottom of his prime-time slot five nights a week. The talk is that NBC might move Leno back to late night, where he was once a ratings king. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, that would be a major programming shake-up.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: Last night, Jay Leno got some good jokes out of the rumors.
(Soundbite of television program "The Jay Leno Show")
Mr. JAY LENO (Television Host): It's Katie Couric's birthday today, and you know, she left NBC for another network. I've got to give her a call, see how that's working out. Yeah, yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLAIR: So here's the deal: Nobody but NBC executives really knows for sure where Jay Leno will end up, and it's possible they don't even know yet. But NBC did come out with a statement yesterday saying that the new Jay Leno show, in their words, presented some issues for our affiliates, affiliates like WEEK in Peoria, Illinois, where Mark DeSantis is the general manager.
Mr. MARK DeSANTIS (General Manager, WEEK): The promise of - from NBC was that we were going to have something that was unique and different five nights a week.
BLAIR: It hasn't really worked out that way. Low ratings for Leno means fewer people are hanging around to watch the local news on WEEK.
Mr. DeSANTIS: And most affiliates would confirm this. The lead-in for our late news has diminished, and the Conan show, the new "Tonight Show," has not done well, especially - or at least in Peoria. And it has affected our morning news as well because people getting up - you know, if they've gone to bed and they're watching Letterman, they get up and they turn on my competition.
BLAIR: So now what? There are lots of questions. If NBC does move Jay Leno back to the 11:35 p.m. time slot, what happens to Conan O'Brien or Jimmy Fallon, who comes on after him? But an even bigger question is:
Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (TV Critic, St. Petersburg Times): What will NBC do with five hours at 10 p.m.?
BLAIR: Eric Deggans is TV critic for the St. Petersburg Times.
Mr. DEGGANS: The rumors are that they've ordered something like 18 different pilots for dramas to get a sense of what they can put in that time slot. But the time frame we're hearing is that the Leno change could happen in March, after the Winter Olympics.
BLAIR: Deggans says there's no way NBC can be ready with five new dramas by March. Another possibility is moving older hits like "Law & Order" back to Leno's slot, and fill in with reality shows early in the evening. Eric Deggans says they might have had a success last year with a new police drama called "Southland."
(Soundbite of television program "Southland")
Mr. Michael Cudlitz (Actor): (As Officer John Cooper) The victim can be the suspect; the suspect can be the victim.
Mr. DEGGANS: It had high production values. It had good acting in it. It had edgy subject matter.
BLAIR: But then NBC yanked it from the schedule. General manager Mark DeSantis says NBC had no room for "Southland" because Jay Leno was taking up all the real estate. "Southland" went to cable network TNT. Eric Deggans:
Mr. Deggans: It was a curious move at the time, and I wonder if they wouldn't want to take that back now, given what they have to do with Leno.
BLAIR: NBC network executives will have lots to talk about at their affiliates meeting in a couple of weeks. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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