NBC Cancels “The Jay Leno Show” Hopes to Keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy in Line Up; Blames Affilifates for Woes

Nikki Finke and her hardworking staff at “Deadline, Hollywood” was the first out of the gate with this breaking news: NBC has canceled the “Jay Leno Show” today.

NBC-Universal Chief Jeff Gaspar meet with reporters and television critics to make the announcement at the 2010 Television Critics Association in Pasadena.  At the press conference Gaspar said,Leno would return to 11:35PM, “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”  is pushed back to “12:05 AM and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon starts at 1:05AM.

Jeff Gaspin led off the session with this statement: “Anyway, let me just get right to it. Let’s talk about The Jay Leno Show. I can confirm what many of you have been reporting: starting February The Jay Leno Show will no longer air at 10 PM. While it was performing at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet our affiliates’ needs and we realized we had to make a change.

“My goal right now is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy as part of our late night lineup. I’ve spoken to all of them and proposed that The Jay Leno Show move to 11:35 PM, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien move to 12:05 AM and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon would then start at 1:05 AM. As much as I would like to tell you we have a done deal, we know that’s not true. The talks are still ongoing.”

Gaspar has not set a start date but he confident it will be ready before Vancouver Winter Olympics which start on February 12.

NBC affiliate chief Michael Fiorile, Chairman of the NBC Affiliate Board, approve the decision: “This is a great move for the affiliates, the network and, most importantly, the viewers. Speaking on behalf of the board, I thank the network for keeping the lines of communication so open, and for being so responsive to the needs of the affiliates. We admire their willingness to innovate, and their willingness to change course when it didn’t work for us. We were delighted to collaborate on the launch of the 10:00 PM show, and we look forward to continuing to work with Jeff Zucker and  the entire network leadership team as we set a new direction, build on our long history together, and contribute to the impressive legacy of NBC.”

Gaspar said NBC affiliate pressured him to make the change. The Jay Leno Show hurt the lead in to local News:”I would have liked nothing more than to give it a 52-week try,” Gaspin said. First, the affiliates gave NBC until November. “Then they said, ‘You know, this is not getting much better for us.'” (Gaspin later estimated about a third of the affiliates were really hurt by it. “In some cases, they just lost more of a [ratings] percentage than they thought they would. So we said, ‘Let’s look at December.'” But, Gaspin noted, when smaller affiliates started getting their ratings books in November, “the drumbeat started getting louder and louder. Towards the middle of December, they made it very clear they were going to start to be more vocal about their displeasure. Then they started talking about preemption. It was then that I realized that this was not going to go well if we kept things in place. And since they are our partners, even though it was doing OK for us, and it truly was, I just made a tough call.”

Gaspar said the  issue was affiliate relations  not adverting revenue.”This was not an issue for the network, it was an issue for our affiliates.  He said,”it becomes more of a public relations issue than a contractual issue. You don’t want to have your partners, your affiliates, constantly saying, ‘This is killing me.’ It was going to damage Jay, and it was going to damage NBC. So regardless of what the legal situation was, this was going to continue to be a PR nightmare. Obviously, the ones that were hurt the most were the loudest.”

Nikki Finke: “Deadline, Hollywood” has the rest of the story.

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