NY Times Chimes In On Leno/Conan Buzz

NBC executives held discussions with both Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien Thursday about the future of the network’s late-night lineup. And while executives said that no final decision has been made, they did not deny that the network is considering moves that could include returning Mr. Leno to his old job as host of “The Tonight Show.”

NBC executives said a decision would definitely not be announced Thursday but did not deny a report posted by the website TMZ that NBC was considering making the switch and replacing Mr. O’Brien at “Tonight” with Mr. Leno.

TMZ reported that NBC would make the move soon to take advantage of the natural break in its schedule when it covers the Winter Olympics next month.

The late-night discussions at NBC are directly related to pressure that has been brought on NBC by its affiliated stations, which have seen ratings for their 11 p.m. local newscasts plummet this television season because of much-weakened lead-in audiences from the network in the 10 p.m. hour.

That hour has been filled by Mr. Leno’s new prime-time show. NBC has said for months that Mr. Leno’s ratings were not out of line with what they had promised to advertisers but they acknowledged that they had underestimated the negative impact on the affiliated stations.

Mr. O’Brien, meanwhile, has seen his own ratings suffer. He has trailed the CBS late-night star David Letterman by about 2 million viewers a night – Mr. Leno had easily been the winner in that time period previously.

If Mr. Leno does return to his old 11:35 p.m. there is some question about what will happen with Mr. O’Brien. He had been recruited by other networks in the past but how his contract might be resolved and how his experience at “Tonight” might affect his future prospects are unknown factors.

via mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

Ironically, the Times writer covering this beat is the same Bill Carter that famously documented the Leno/Letterman battle for The Tonight Show in the bestseller The Late Shift.

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