NBC’s Gaspin on the Leno/O’Brien Controversy: “We Realized We Had to Make a Change”

Jay-leno-and-conan-obrienNBC made it official on Sunday morning: “The Jay Leno Show” experiment is dead.  


Leno will be gone from primetime by Feb. 12, when NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics get underway.


“While performing at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet our affiliate needs,” NBC Universal TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin told reporters at NBC’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. “We realized we had to make a change. My goal is to keep Jay, Conan and Jimmy as part of the late night lineup.”


Gaspin confirmed that he had asked Leno to host a half-hour show at 11:35, followed by “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” at 12:05 and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” at 1:05. It’s unclear whether Carson Daly would remain in late night, but unlikely – as affiliates take over at 2:05 a.m.


With Leno out of prime, Gaspin now expects to see a ratings bump this spring.


“It’s going to cost more, but the net net is NBC is going to be fine,” he said. “The ratings will go up and the revenue will go up.”


Scrubbing Leno from primetime and picking up 18 pilots this spring reps Gaspin’s first push for an NBC ratings recovery since taking over the network five months ago.


“I don’t care how quickly it happens as long as it happens,” he said. “I want to see progress with our schedule and progress with our ratings. As long as a arrow going up as opposed to the side or down I’ll be happy.”


That primetime revival may start with a flurry of pilots that the network officially ordered on Sunday, including new dramas from David E. Kelley, Jerry Bruckheimer, Hank Steinberg and Cindy Chupack.


But more immediately, Gaspin must first find a resolution to his late night conundrum. Exec said he expects to have a new lineup in place, O’Brien or no O’Brien, by the time the Olympic Games start.

Talks with Leno and Conan O’Brien will resume on Monday after the hosts take the weekend to digest the upheaval. Gaspin said his goal is to keep all three hosts on NBC and in late night – but wouldn’t comment on specific negotiations.


“When I asked (O’Brien) to move to 12:05 I made it clear ‘The Tonight Show’ was moving with them,” Gaspin said. “What’s important to Jay is telling jokes at 11:30, and what’s important to Conan beyond that was having the franchise of ‘The Tonight Show.’ I couldn’t satisfy either with everything they wanted, which is why I came up with this compromise.”


Leno is believed to have already signed on to the plan – but O’Brien’s decision remains up in the air.


Gaspin said he had to make a quick move after affiliates threatened a revolt. According to the exec, as much as one-third of the Peacock’s affils were expected to start pre-empting “The Jay Leno Show.”


Gaspin said the conversations with affiliates over “Leno” started in early November and went right through the holidays.


“The intensity of the dialogue got stronger,” he said. “They were our partners in this… That drove a lot of the pressure.”


Gaspin said the net is still figuring out its scheduling plans once Leno is pushed out of prime.


Read more — including Gaspin’s thoughts on whether the upcoming regulatory approval of Compact’s NBC U acquisition — here.

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