NBC in embarrassing retreat on prime time Leno show

Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:30pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBC retreated on Sunday from its controversial bid to shake up prime time U.S. television, saying it was "going back to basics" with traditional dramas and comedies to try to rebuild audiences and its reputation.

Once mighty NBC, now at the bottom of the four leading U.S. networks, announced it was dropping "The Jay Leno Show" in February from its 10 p.m. lineup after just four months because of pressure from local affiliates.

NBC said it had given the go-ahead to pilots for six new scripted dramas and two new comedies for the 2010-2011 season starting in September. They include shows from Emmy-award winners David E. Kelley and Jerry Bruckheimer.

The network has struggled in recent years to find a break-out hit to replace 1990s crowd-pleasers like "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "ER" at a time when traditional TV is losing audiences to videogames and social networking sites.

"Right now, instead of trying to reinvent, we are going back to basics," NBC Universal television entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin told reporters.

"I almost don't care how quickly it happens, as long as it happens," Gaspin said of his goal to improve the network's lineup. "As long as I see an hour going up (in the ratings) instead of going to the side or down, I'll be happy."

Gaspin said Leno's comedy and talk show would cease airing in its 10 p.m. slot on February 12. He said he hoped to move Leno to 11:35 p.m., "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" to 12:05 a.m. and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" to 1:05 a.m. but stressed that nothing had been settled.

General Electric Co's NBC had spent months defending its decision to air "The Jay Leno Show" five nights a week, all year round, in the 10 p.m. hour traditionally seen by U.S. networks as the home of much more costly scripted drama.   Continued...

<p>Host Jay Leno answers a reporter's question during a panel for his upcoming television series "The Jay Leno Show" at the Television Critics Association Cable summer press tour in Pasadena, California August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>