Affiliates Like Late-Night Leno

GMs hopeful a shakeup would jumpstart local news
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While they had yet to hear from the network by midday
Friday, general managers at NBC affiliates seemed genuinely heartened by what
looks like a proposal to move Jay Leno back to 11:35, and fill the vital 10
p.m. hour with more typical primetime fare.

"I'm very excited-it's the best outcome we could've had,"
says WLBT Jackson VP/General Manager Dan Modisett. "I don't think this was
working like any of us had hoped."

NBC affiliates remain fiercely loyal to Leno and were quick
to say the rookie program's struggles don't reflect the funnyman's work ethic
or comedic chops. "This isn't about Jay's popularity," says WJAR Providence
VP/General Manager Lisa Churchville. "This is about having that kind of show at
10 p.m."

Some affiliate managers were reluctant to discuss the
rumored changes, which may see Leno on for a half hour at 11:35, followed by an
hour hosted by Conan O'Brien at 12:05, as they had not heard from the network.
But most are hopeful Jay-and Conan-sticks with NBC, and most, if not all,
desperately want to see a change in terms of the lead-in they're getting to
their lucrative late news. Charleston-Huntington (WV) news power WSAZ, for one,
is getting half the lead-in it got a year ago. "Even strong stations like ours
are getting battered," says VP/General Manager Don Ray. "So this is terrific
news."

NBC reportedly met with Leno and O'Brien to discuss possible
outcomes yesterday. The NBC affiliates board, headed by Michael Fiorile, will
meet with the network in New York
Jan. 21 to discuss the Leno dilemma. The moves and their timing should become
clearer after the meeting.

Of course, if the network pushes Leno out of prime, there
remains the challenge of coming up with catchy programming at 10. Says one
Midwestern NBC affiliate: "We're very concerned about what goes into that time
period--it has a direct impact on the revenue we get from late news. I don't
know how many more books we can go through and still expect to win [local news
races]."

The affiliates largely applaud the network for taking action
and appearing to address an issue they felt direly needed addressing. "It looks
like the best of all worlds," says Modisett. "We keep the three late-night
talents on NBC, and NBC takes a few swings at the fence [in primetime]."

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