NBC says it's committed to Leno despite affiliates' concerns
CHICAGO — NBC said Thursday that comedian Jay Leno and the network remain committed to improving his nightly 10 p.m. EST broadcast in the face of complaints by affiliates.
A report on entertainment Web site FTVLive said Thursday that NBC executives had decided to "pull the plug" on "The Jay Leno Show," which began airing in a prime-time spot last fall, concluding that the "experiment had failed." An unnamed source told the publication that "Law & Order" reruns might replace Leno on at least one night of the week.
However, in a statement, NBC, owned by General Electric Co., indicated that it is still behind Leno.
"As we have said all along, Jay's show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network. It has, however, presented some issues for our affiliates," the statement said. "Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve the performance."
Because Leno's program airs at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central five nights a week, it leads directly into late newscasts on NBC affiliates. Because Leno's ratings are not as strong as the NBC dramas on the schedule a season ago, these newscasts have a weaker lead-in and are not seen by as many viewers.
Local newscasts are the sustaining force behind local TV stations, as they keep all of the advertising sold on those broadcasts.
NBC has been in fourth place among the major broadcast networks since the 2004-05 season. Its unprecedented decision to put Leno, former host of "The Tonight Show," into a 10 p.m. time slot Monday through Friday in the current season was seen as a simple cost-cutting measure, as scripted dramas are the most expensive to produce.
But NBC executives said the move was made to take advantage of a renewed appetite for "live, topical programming" after ratings for "Saturday Night Live" surged during the 2008 presidential election cycle.
GE has made a deal to sell 51 percent of NBC Universal to cable operator Comcast Corp. That transaction must still be approved by federal regulators.