The Internet is abuzz with rumors of a major shake-up at NBC involving a certain chin-heavy comedian. The Jay Leno Show has earned predictably low ratings in prime time, but the real problem has been the hit on affiliates due to draining viewers from the local news, where local stations earn the bulk of their income.
FTVLive.com was the first to report yesterday that NBC would be pulling the plug on the Jay Leno show, promptly followed by a statement from NBC that "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 the performance.”
Vaguely supportive, to be sure, but some continued to note that the statement did not explicitly deny the claims that changes are afoot. Plus New York magazine noted that NBC has ordered more pilots for the 2010-2011 season—18—than they have since 2003.
Then TMZ.com reported today that Leno would be vacating his primetime slot (at 9-10 p.m. central time) after the February hiatus for the Olympics and returning to 10:30 p.m. CST. If true, what is still being determined is whether Leno will have a half-hour show to be followed by Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show, or if Leno be returning to his old gig and Conan be out of a job.
Regardless of where Leno ends up—and we'll know soon enough, as the network will be presenting its mid-season schedule to critics on Sunday—NBC's dire straits leave many questions to be answered. As Time's James Poniewozik ponders, "Will Conan be screwed, or will Conan be really screwed?... What does NBC put in five hours of primetime? What does Conan do in response? If Conan leaves, how much longer would NBC keep Jay in late night? Is the move in part a way to make good on a contractual commitment to Jay (as well as keep him from going to ABC)? Is it driven by the new overlords at Comcast? Can Jay get ground back against David Letterman, or is his brand tarnished and Dave on top for good?"