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Jay Leno's Move to Primetime: Brilliant or Desperate?

December 9th, 2008 2:13pm EST | Kevin Olsta By: Kevin Olsta
Jay LenoThis afternoon, NBC announced a breakthrough plan for fall 2009 that is unlike any other line-up ever produced.

It was well documented that this spring Jay Leno would be stepping down from his 16 year post at The Tonight Show. Late Night host Conan O'Brien would move into the 11:35/10:35c slot, and former SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon would be taking over for Conan on Late Night.

These moves led to speculation that Jay would in fact not be retiring, but instead ink a lucrative deal to create a new show on a competing network. With these talks moving from rumor to reality, NBC realized they had to do all they could to try to keep Jay Leno in the family.

So what's the solution? A completely outside-of-the-box programming move that will move Jay Leno to primetime. Instead of airing costly hour dramas every night at 10/9c, NBC will be featuring The Jay Leno Show every weeknight. In a press conference this afternoon, NBC chairman Jeff Zucker talked about how excited they were to have this innovative new idea set in place, and to have Jay Leno at the center of it. Leno commented on how people are going to bed earlier. People enjoy things like the monologue and headlines, but just don't want to stay up till midnight to see it. In primetime, he said that he hopes to do more on location pieces and break from the set mold of comedy, guest, music. The move is certainly an interesting one, and probably contains equal parts of brilliance and desperation.

What kind of domino effect does this move create? First of all, NBC will have over 30% less time for original series programming. This means that many underperforming shows will likely get the axe and other shows may be delegated to one of NBC's cable networks like when they moved Law & Order CI to the USA network. Secondly, since Jay will be bringing the many of the Tonight Show's components to The Jay Leno Show, it begs the question whether the Tonight Show will essentially adopt the format of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Earlier, there was speculation that Conan would have to abandon many of the quirky sketches and themes that he uses on the Late Night show when he moved to the 11:35/10:35c slot. Now, it would appear that he may have more latitude to make the show his own. Thirdly, this really opens up the door for Jimmy Fallon to really create an entirely new show at Late Night, instead of just taking over for Conan. How will the other networks respond to this? My guess is probably not much at all. They have many established hits at the 10/9c hour, and I would assume that shows like CSI: Miami would still beat Jay in the ratings. The question will be how much of an increase will NBC experience over other shows in these slots like the discarded Journeyman or struggling My Own Worst Enemy.

This move is at the very least a gimmick and at the very most a game changer in which NBC looks to rise out of the fourth place hole it has been in for several years. The plans are being laid out right now, but we will have to wait until next fall to experience it for ourselves.

Kevin Olsta
Story by Kevin Olsta

Starpulse contributing writer