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NBC Cancels Leno at 10; Works On a New Plan

After much speculation and buzz, NBC finally announces that it's canceling Jay Leno's 10 pm show starting on Feb. 12.

NBC Universal's Chairman of TV Entertainment, Jeff Gaspin took the stage at the company's annual press tour, and instead of the usual discussion of programming and scheduling changes, today there was no denying that late-night programming was priority No. 1.

Gaspin says his goal is to put Leno back at 11:35pm for a half-hour show, followed by an hour of Conan followed by Jimmy Fallon. But he said that nothing has been decided yet, and that he wouldn't confirm deals with any of the three players.

NBC, owned by General Electric, insists that Leno's 10 pm show was working financially for the network, it was the affiliates that pushed to make this change. Effectively, Leno's lower ratings were fine for the network because costs were lower, but lower ratings leading into crucial 11 pm news programming were killing the affiliates.

Jay Leno
Jay Leno

Canceling Leno's show, along with the announcement that NBC is returning to a traditional upfront ad-sales period, instead of its experimental "in front" is a dramatic return to playing it safe. When NBC announced the decision to move Leno to 10 over a year ago, it was described as a strategy that could revolutionize traditional broadcast programming.

The network insisted it would give the new Leno strategy 52 weeks to see if it works. The plug was pulled in less than half that time.

So what now? Will they make a deal with Conan? Since Conan's ratings are down so far from where Leno's ratings were last year, many may wonder why NBC will push so hard to keep him on air.

And what will NBC fill that 10 pm slot with? There are a couple obvious shows to fill the hour, such as Law and Order (an L.A. version is in the works) and Dateline. NBC ordered many more pilots for this coming fall than it has in years, hoping that some of them will work for the drama-heavy 10 pm hour.

Separately, NBC is working on a new show with J.J. Abrams and another with Jerry Bruckheimer, both of whom have sterling track records.

Gaspin says that the ad market is robust and demand is huge.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.