Is NBC Getting Ready to Dump Jay Leno?

January 8, 2010  |  9:00am

Update: Late Thursday evening, NBC announced it will be moving Jay Leno back to his old spot at 11:35 p.m. on weeknights. His show will now be a half hour long, pushing Conan O’Brien to 12:05 a.m. and Jimmy Fallon to 1:05 a.m. Although this plan isn’t official yet, the network is tentatively set to begin the late-night transition after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 28.

Update: In a statement to RadarOnline.com, the folks at NBC say they plan to stand by their man: “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.”

It seems Tina Fey isn’t the only one joking about Jay Leno’s career these days. (You may remember funny lady Fey’s quote at last year’s Emmys when she thanked NBC for keeping 30 Rock on the air even though it’s “more expensive than a talk show—a jab apparently aimed at her network keeping Leno on the air.) On this past Tuesday’s Jay Leno Show (via New York magazine’s Vulture blog), the host himself added fuel to the rumor fire that NBC might be dropping his program in favor of additional prime time options.

As chef Guy Fieri instructed Leno and Kim Kardashian the art of deep-frying Oreos, Leno—donning a McDonald’s-esque paper hat—mentioned, “I may be doing this again very soon.” Since this quote can only really refer to working at McDonald’s, frying classic Nabisco snacks or cooking with Kardashians, one has to assume it was a reference to the fact that the The Jay Leno Show is on rocky ground.

For those who need further convincing, there’s more evidence to consider. NBC is producing more pilots this season than they have since 2003 (18, leaving last year’s meager 11 in the dust). Could this be a plan to a fill potential hole left by Leno’s absence? Not according to NBC exec Angela Bromstad, who told Bloomberg that the space Leno occupies gives her time to focus on other shows. “Not having the additional five hours has certainly relieved some of the pressure,” she says. Still, speculation remains.

Although 18 million tuned in for The Jay Leno Show’s Sept. 14 debut last fall, numbers began taking a nosedive as early as episode two, which had an audience of 11.1 million. By October, the The Jay Leno Show was averaging a mere 5.6 million viewers.

And that means other late-night shows on NBC are taking a hit as well. Dubbed “The Leno Effect,” shows following Leno’s are seeing fewer numbers (if a viewer has changed the channel by 10 p.m. he’s unlikely to return to NBC that night).

So is one of NBC’s New Year’s resolutions to chuck Leno? Scott Jones from FTV.com certainly thinks so, and he says he has sources at NBC to back up the claim. “Now there’s kind of two camps right now at the highest level,” Jones said during a recent KNX 1070 interview. “One camp wants to pull Leno right after the Olympics…that other camp wants to wait and see what pilots come into the pipeline and then see what they can replace Leno with, so that may be further down the line.”

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