NBC says Leno and O'Brien 'have the weekend to think about' new late night plan
NBC decided to pull the plug on the experiment after learning some affiliates were considering dropping the nightly prime-time show.
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.
He 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.
Asked 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.
The decision 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.
AP Television Writer David Bauder contributed to this report.