Jay Leno takes his act to prime-time TV

Tue Dec 9, 2008 5:41pm EST
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By Steve Gorman and Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comic Jay Leno will launch his own nightly talk show in prime time next year in a landmark television deal that keeps him from moving to a rival network after his planned departure as host of "The Tonight Show," NBC said on Tuesday.

The new one-hour show will air at 10 p.m. and become the first program of its type to run five nights a week in U.S. prime time, breaking with the programing model long used by NBC and other commercial broadcast networks for the most lucrative hours of TV advertising.

The deal comes as executives at the struggling network, a unit of General Electric Co-controlled media company NBC Universal, are seeking to revamp their business to cope with major industry upheavals brought by new digital technology.

In addition, NBC officials worried that Leno, who has long reigned supreme in the late-night TV ratings war, would jump to a competing network and take "Tonight Show" viewers with him.

"We are looking to change how broadcast television works in this new media landscape, and we were looking to keep Jay Leno in the family. With this we have accomplished both," said Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment.

"It just seemed like the time was right for this," Leno, 58, told the same news conference. "Would I do this at the beginning of my career, no. But after 17 years of being on 'The Tonight Show,' it's fun to try something different."

Leno's future had been in question since NBC surprised the TV industry four years ago by announcing he would step down from "Tonight" in May 2009, to be replaced by Conan O'Brien, who currently hosts NBC's "Late Night" show that follows Leno.

Leno was widely reported to have been privately unhappy with stepping down, and rival networks including Walt Disney Co's ABC were said to be circling the late-night star.   Continued...

<p>NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman (L) speaks next to talk show host Jay Leno during a news conference in the Universal City area of Los Angeles December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas</p>