UPDATES SURPRISE! NBC Will Give Leno 10 PM Slot
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So this morning, NBC finally got around to officially announcing the Jay Leno move to primetime at 10 PM starting Fall 2009. ”Do we expect to beat CSI? No,” Leno admitted. “Originally I wasn’t going to stay at NBC. But I remembered something my parents always told me, ‘Whatever I do in life, make sure I come in fourth.’ ” To which his boss Ben Silverman responded, “You’re in the right place.” Leno went on to to talk about his reputation for loyalty. “My mother is from Scotland, so we tend to die in the mine. It’s nice to be wanted at my age…” Everybody congratulated each other, Jay told more jokes at NBC’s expense (but, shockingly, had praise for Jeff Zucker), all while Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff downplayed their or Zucker’s accountability for NBC’s primetime failure or programming layoffs. ”We are thrilled to keep Jay in the family. We’ve been very focused and very vocal about how we are looking to change how broadcast television looks,” Graboff began the press conference. But Leno later quipped, “What they haven’t said is that I’ll be on right after The Today Show from 8 to 10 PM… I just heard that CBS is putting David Letterman on at 9:59 PM.”

Leno explained that this new primetime deal only came together last week. ” ‘See what the affiliates think. Try it out,’ ” Leno says he told NBC about stripping his show. ”When we came up with it, it happened very quickly,” Graboff told reporters. Silverman said keeping Leno helped secure “NBC’s comedy brand” — to which Leno responded, “What Ben means is that NBC barely has 6 hours of programming”. Leno said he called Conan O’Brien about it last night. (I hear Leno also picked up the phone yesterday to Disney chief Bob Iger to say sorry but the No. 1 late night host won’t be going to ABC.)

More info came out today about the show Leno plans, including that he’ll tape in front of a live audience but probably earlier in the day, stay put at NBC’s Burbank studio (whereas Conan O’Brien is moving The Tonight Show to the new studio on the Universal lot), and be off the air for just three months instead of the six dictated by the non-compete clause in his existing NBC contract. Estimates are that Leno 2.0 may only cost $2M a week and result in 46 weeks of original shows, compared to the average $3 million per episode pricetag of scripted primetime dramas that air on average 22 original weekly episodes. But the real question is whether the 58-year-old can attract more eyeballs than just the 4.8 million he averages now on The Tonight Show – measly by primetime standards, especially in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic. But Jeff Zucker will try to explain this away by repeating his mantra that he’s managing for margins instead of ratings in this lousy economy. Still another issue is how much Leno’s new show plans to rely in his tired Tonight Show segments like “Jay Walking” and “Headlines” which have barely been freshened since 1996 when then NBC West Coast head Don Ohlmeyer helped revamp Leno’s struggling Tonight Show to take on and beat David Letterman at CBS. (Oh, if only NBC had a programming general like Ohlmeyer now. Instead it has bumbling Ben Silverman in charge…)

Meanwhile, NBC affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile told Broadcasting & Cable that the beleaguered affiliates asked NBC last summer to give back time and maybe even days and give local content a shot. So he expressed surprise that Jeff Zucker had not brought up the possibility of scaling back network programming sooner. (Fiorile thinks Saturday night seems like a logical place to start…) Among those hurting NBC affiliates, few get a substantial boost from the network’s primetime offerings. Zucker does say the affiliate model is overdue for an upgrade. But despite what Jeff may claim, don’t for a minute think the affiliates’ first-choice scenario isn’t for the network to finally deliver some primetime hits. Failing that, expanded local news or local ballgames might hit a higher number than what currently rolls on the weaker nights, they told B&C. “I’d much rather have NBC give me a program with strong ratings,” says KSHB/KMCI VP/General Manager Craig Allison. “But if that doesn’t happen, I think this does present an opportunity. We’ll take it and make lemonade out of it—we know how to do that.” Now, isn’t that a ringing endorsement of Zucker’s track record? Sheesh.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.