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Leno Beats NBC, AND Saves Its Prime Time?

By admin Published: December 9, 2008


UPDATES: The full NBC announcement is here. And the press conference, which I watched via webcast, was especially amusing because of NBC's triumphant ragging of the NBC execs with him. (Among the lines: that Leno's parents taught him "whatever you do in life, always try to come in fourth.") Over at "SNL," they have had had sundry things in a box and in their pants. Jay has a key NBC body part in a vise.

UPDATE 2: I put in a call to Dick Wolf's people. He is, at this writing, unavailable for comment.

UPDATE 3: A release from NBC offers this from Conan O'Brien on his show tonight: "I've had many people calling me today saying, 'What is all this? What's happening?' Jay Leno is going to be going in at 10:00 on NBC. I wanted to make something very clear here on the show this evening. I've known about this for a while. I've talked a lot about this with Jay. I am thrilled. I am absolutely thrilled that Jay is staying at NBC. He has been my lead-in on this program for 16 seasons. He is a fantastic lead-in. He is a huge part of my success. I am indebted to Jay Leno. And I love the idea that that relationship is going to continue. He is going to be my lead-in continuing, I hope, for a long, long time. So congratulations to Jay Leno. [APPLAUSE] This is a happy ending. It's very nice. We're thrilled for him and we're thrilled for everybody at the Tonight Show. Also I've talked it over with my producer and that means I can keep doing my Jay Leno impression."
Well, actually Conan's lead-in is going to be local newscasts, but it's a nice sentiment.

Notes on Jay's prime-time move, after the jump. ...

The network reportedly announced on "Today" this morning that Jay Leno will get the 10 p.m. hour five nights a week beginning in Fall 2009, after his "Tonight" show tenure ends. The New York Times broke it in a piece posted online Monday. You can find it here.

For some reason, my first thought is, what will Dick Wolf say?

My second, on an issue the Times story acknowledges, is what will affiliates say about Leno as their late news lead-in? After, of course, they've thought that this can't be worse than some of the dramas NBC has tried at 10 p.m.

My third, though, is that Leno effectively called NBC's bluff. When the network announced that Conan O'Brien would get "Tonight" in '09, that deadline was years away, giving Leno time to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life -- and NBC plenty of time to change its mind. Well, the deadline loomed and Leno made clear that he liked doing talk TV, and he would be happy to go somewhere else if NBC did not keep him. It looked as if NBC could be facing another nightmare like the one between Leno and David Letterman following Johnny Carson's stepping down. NBC, not wanting that, has made this unconventional deal to keep Leno.

But a fourth thought (and this is entirely too much thinking for this time of the morning) is that this isn't that unconventional for viewers. Stripping shows across five nights a week is commonplace in every time period except network prime time, and even there you can find precedents for running a show multiple nights in the same week. "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" did it (although it ran itself into the ground in the process, but with a format that did not call for either the variety or the celebrity that Leno's show could command), "Peyton Place" was on as much as three times a week in the '60s, "Batman" twice.

But here's a fifth thought: What will prime-time Leno mean in the guest-booking wars, particularly those within NBC? With the potential of a prime-time audience, he would certainly be in a position to get guests that might otherwise have gone on Conan. And, across the dial, it's a challenge to "20/20" and "60 Minutes" and "Larry King Live."

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