NBC is said to be considering a significant schedule change for its late-night lineup that would push The Jay Leno Show back to Leno’s old spot of 11:35 p.m., according to The New York Times. The late-night revamp would put Leno on for 30 minutes, followed by Conan O’Brien starting at 12:05 a.m. and Jimmy Fallon at 1:05 a.m. (more details here). NBC declined to comment but released this statement: “We have the best comedy team in the business. We remain committed to keeping Conan O’Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years and is one of the most respected entertainers in television.”
The stunning revelation comes amidst a flurry of Internet rumors over the last 24 hours that culminated with speculative reports about Leno’s show getting the heave-ho. As a result, NBC took the unusual step of responding to an internet report about the future of The Jay Leno Show earlier today by saying “Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. 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. Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve performance.” Obviously, a decision on how to fix the network’s ailing late-night lineup may be imminent now. In the meantime, the NBC brass will face the nation’s TV critics at its annual press tour gathering Sunday in Pasadena, CA, so the future of Leno and O’Brien will surely be addressed.
Concerns about Leno’s fledgling talk show hit a fever pitch in November when Leno, of all people, told Broadcasting & Cable: “Would I have preferred to stay at 11:30? Yeah, sure.” His sentiment was no doubt colored by the show’s declining ratings. Though his talk show debuted at 18.4 million, it dropped to 4.3 million in just seven weeks (nowadays, Leno is averaging 5.32 million viewers and a 1.6 rating among adults 18-49). Meanwhile, ratings are down for the post-Leno local newscasts in several of the network’s top 10 markets, while Conan O’ Brien is routinely trounced by David Letterman a half hour later.
More on Jay Leno from EW: