NEW YORK – NBC reportedly has signed its late-night star Jay Leno to a contract that will keep him at the network and move him to prime time.
Under the new deal, Leno, whose "Tonight" show hosting job will go to Conan O'Brien next June, would have a new show airing 10 p.m. Eastern every weeknight, according to The New York Times.
The deal reportedly will be announced Tuesday.
The arrangement would enable NBC to hold on to Leno, who might have jumped to a competing network, and even been on the air as a rival to O'Brien.
It also stands to significantly reduce programming costs for the struggling network, which has long been No. 4 in the ratings and last week laid off 500 employees. Leno's five-a-week talk-variety format would be considerably cheaper to produce than most scripted dramatic series.
This "strip" scheduling is common other times of the day, but seldom seen in prime time. Such a money-saving move was foreshadowed Monday by NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker in remarks during an investor conference in New York. He said the network would have to consider scaling back the number of hours it airs programming.
Leno, who took over "Tonight" from Johnny Carson in 1992, is effectively being evicted from its anchor desk under a deal NBC announced four years ago that guaranteed the job to "Late Night" host O'Brien.
Aimed at keeping O'Brien at NBC, the plan also guaranteed the network five more years of Leno's services at 11:35 p.m., where he continues to reign as late-night ratings champ. But it put NBC in danger of losing Leno, whose future subsequently became a matter of much speculation. His farewell as "Tonight" host is next May 29.