Leno Makes the Leap to Prime-Time

Late night to prime time for comedian talker

Meet the new star, same as the old star!

Jay Leno has been a fixture of late-night television for more than a decade.

Now, the host of "The Tonight Show" will single-handedly change the face of prime-time when he moves to a 10 p.m. time slot on NBC in what is considered to be an unprecedented move that the network formally announced today.

Full disclosure: NBC is the parent company of this news organization.

Leno -- who will pass hosting duties on to Conan O'Brien in May -- signed a deal with NBC for a new show that will begin airing next fall and features many favorites from the late-night talk show such as "Headlines" and "Jay Walking."

Rival networks aggressively courted the talk show host after NBC announced it planned to hand the gig over to O'Brien in 2009, and the network struggled for a solution to keep Leno from being poached.

It took a novel solution and a bit of wooing by network CEO Jeff Zucker to keep Leno on board, the New York Times reported.

"Can we continue to program 22 hours of prime time? Three of competitors don't," Zucker told analysts before news broke of Leno's move to prime-time. "Can we afford to program seven nights a week? One of our competitors doesn't. All of these questions have to be on the table. And we are actively looking at all of those questions."

The move to prime-time will pit Leno against a time slot traditionally reserved for dramas such as "CSI:Miami" -- which are far more costly to produce than a talk show. It is an unprecedented move for a network and one that could set the bar for others.  

But will it work? Many argue that the move is a far cry from the heady days of "ER" and "Law and Order" when NBC was a successful drama-producing powerhouse. And others wonder if Leno's late-night leading 4.8 million viewers will tune in to watch the comedian at an earlier time.

The move is a risky one, analysts argue, but in this format even the cost of failure is diminished.

It's possible that Leno's new show won't have the desired affect on the network's weak prime-time numbers but many argue the network killed two birds with one stone: keeping Leno in-house and finding programming for  prime-time.

Keeping Leno was a coup for NBC and meant that he wouldn't be competing against O'Brien on a rival network.

The move would also pares down the network's expensive entertainment programming and a prime-time Jay could bolster ratings for local newscasts.

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