NBC yanks TV comedian Leno's show from prime-time

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The Independent Online

Veteran comedian Jay Leno, for years king of late-night television in the United States, is being ousted from his prime-time perch, NBC announced Sunday, conceding that an experiment to air his talk show in an earlier time slot had failed.

"The Jay Leno Show" as of February 12, no longer will fill the coveted 10 pm (0500 GMT) time slot, NBC said, following complaints from local stations that his low ratings were hurting the popularity of programs that followed his.

"In November, we started hearing from our affiliates that our local news is being impacted more than we expected," NBC Universal Television Entertainment president Jeff Gaspin told a gathering of television critic in Pasadena, outside of Los Angeles.

"At the end of November, they told us it's not really getting much better for us - in some cases we had a number one newscast, now we're number three," he said.

"Towards the middle of December, they made it clear they would be more vocal about their displeasure. I realized this would not go well if we kept this and I made the tough call," he said.

Leno reportedly has been flirting with other networks, but his plans following the announcement Sunday were not immediately clear.

Speculation has been rife for weeks that the program by one of television's most celebrated figures was endangered.

It was unclear how the broadcaster would plug what will now be a gaping hole in its lineup. Leno's show was moved to the 10 pm prime time slot amid much fanfare after a years-long run in the 11:30 pm (0630 GMT) late night time slot.

Television analysts said NBC may fill the gap with its newsmagazine "Dateline" or might choose to move an established drama show like "Law & Order" into the time slot.

Airing of the show nightly in NBC's coveted 10:00 pm slot was always considered a gamble, marking the first time in US television history that a major broadcast network ran a series five nights a week in prime time.

Analysts say NBC was taking a chance on the show generating more profits than the scripted dramas it is replacing because its production costs are far lower.

Network officials said at the time of the move in September 2009 that it was always an experiment, and that they were only giving the show a one-year trial in prime-time.