NBC, WHDH resolve 'Tonight Show' dispute

The show will go on for Jay Leno in Boston.

NBC and Boston affil WHDH have resolved their dispute — and the Sunbeam Television-owned station confirmed Monday morning that it will air Leno’s new primetime program after all.

“Upon further consideration, we have decided to telecast Jay Leno at 10 p.m. starting in September,” WHDH owner Ed Ansin said. “Jay is from Andover where I went to school. I enjoy his humor. We hope the new show is a big success.”

WHDH made waves two weeks ago when it announced via its website that it planned to launch an hourlong 10 p.m. newscast in the fall.

That newscast would have preempted Leno’s new, still-untitled 10 p.m. series. NBC swiftly responded, warning WHDH that such a move would render the station in breach of its pact with the net — and that the Peacock wouldn’t hesitate to strip WHDH’s affiliation.

The station then seemed to back down, removing the 10 p.m. news announcement from its website. Ansin also fell silent, refusing to discuss the newscast announcement further.

NBC TV Network prexy John Eck said Monday that the Peacock was “very pleased that WHDH will carry Jay Leno’s new primetime comedy show at 10 p.m. this fall on NBC. We look forward to working closely with the station on a successful launch in Boston of this show, featuring one of the most bankable stars in the business.”

Ansin couldn’t be reached for additional comment, but insiders believe the station owner was taken aback by NBC’s strong response — and perhaps didn’t realize that the Peacock had a number of other options in the Boston market, including a Telemundo station it owns in nearby New Hampshire.

NBC had taken Ansin’s threat to preempt Leno seriously enough that it had even rushed to register the Web domain NBC60.com — its Telemundo station, WNEU, broadcasts over Channel 60.

Domain listings show that an NBC employee bought that Web address on April 2, right after WHDH announced its 10 p.m. news plans. That day the same Peacock staffer also bought the domain name NBC68.com — presumably a reference to Boston’s WBPX, an ION station broadcasting over Channel 68.

Reaction in Boston was also louder than what Ansin may have expected; Leno even garnered laughs over the WHDH snub during a fund-raising appearance in Beantown.

“I’m sure it will work out. It’s show-business stuff,” Leno told the Boston Globe. “If I have to speak Spanish and do it for Telemundo, well then.”

Conspiracy theorists may wonder whether Ansin’s ploy to yank Leno off in favor of a 10 p.m. newscast wasn’t part of a publicity stunt. The news garnered attention not only for Leno, but also for WHDH’s news department — including the 10 p.m. newscast it already produces for sister station WLVI.

WLVI trails way behind Boston’s Fox station at 10 p.m.; at the very least, Sunbeam came out of the Leno scuffle with higher awareness of that newscast.

Either way, the resolution of the NBC-Sunbeam standoff was described as a “win-win” for both network and affiliate.

Had WHDH been stripped of its Peacock affiliation, it would have caused major problems for both involved. The Peacock would have taken a ratings hit in Boston — and would have had to spend money to launch a new station (including, perhaps, starting a whole new news department), while WHDH would have suffered major ratings and revenue blows.

Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, network and affiliate execs will look over results from a study they commissioned to determine the best way to produce and schedule Leno’s new series.

Affils want to make sure the unprecedented decision to strip Leno at 10 p.m. doesn’t negatively impact their 11 o’clock newscasts.

Virtually every scenario has been discussed — and NBC says any proposal that makes sense is on the table.

Also, in recent weeks, affils have been heartened by research reports from the net that show the potential benefits of leading out of the Leno show, which will give stations a stable ratings performer with original episodes for most of the year.

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