Here's A Shocker: NBC Experiment Fails

NBC is pulling the plug on its 10 p.m./late night fiasco after telling the world that putting on "The Jay Leno Show" on during primetime would still be a moneymaker for the network.

Turns out, not so much. "Leno" will end Feb. 12, when NBC starts airing the Winter Olympics. When it returns Feb. 28, it will be a half-hour show at 11:30 p.m., pushing back the start of "The Tonight Show" to midnight and "Late Night" to 1 a.m.

It's a situation that NBC's high-priced late night talent is going to have to live with for the moment, but I can't imagine any of them are happy with it. And I don't blame them -- it's not really the fault of the programs, but rather the programmers.

It would have been impossible for any talk show host -- Leno or Letterman or even Johnny Carson himself -- to be a success at 10 p.m. People want primetime programs in that timeslot, and having to compete with new hits like "The Good Wife" or established shows like "CSI: NY" is really an impossible task.

Equally, it's not fair to Conan O'Brian, who had less than a year to build an audience, especially trying to do it with NBC giving him nothing of a lead-in in the 10 p.m. slot. Whether or not you like O'Brien, his demographic is a different one than the traditional "Tonight Show" audience, and you can't just transition that within a few months.

Now NBC is paying Leno a huge sum of money, and they are only going to air him for a half-hour, which seems ridiculous. And O'Brien is reportedly very unhappy and may try to get out of his deal. Word is Fox is already interested in luring him over.

All of the blame lies at the feet of NBC Chairman Jeff Zucker, who has systematically destroyed the network during his disastrous tenure. Zucker wanted to have his cake and eat it too, saving money on more expensive dramas and keeping both Leno and Conan in the NBC fold.

Now NBC has five hours a week to fill from a lineup that has been getting its butt kicked during most hours of the week anyway, and two high-priced late night stars who are ticked off.

Perhaps NBC would have been smart to let either Leno or Conan run the network in place of Zucker and have the other one stay at 11:30 p.m.

It couldn't be any worse than this mess.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: One good note from NBC is that "Chuck" settles into its regular timeslot at 8 p.m. beginning tonight, followed by a new "Heroes" at 9 p.m.

The TV gods may not be favoring NBC these days, but they sure are favoring us, the viewers. "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) airs its 100th episode tonight, and it includes a musical featuring the entire cast, led by Neil Patrick Harris. Can't wait. The rest of the CBS sitcom lineup is new, as is "CSI: Miami" at 10 p.m.

Fox airs a new "House" (Fox, 8 p.m.) (loved those "24"-inspired ads, by the way) followed by a new "Fringe" on a special night at 9 p.m.

"The Bachelor" (ABC, 8 p.m.) is new, as is "Castle," which returns at 10 p.m.

On cable, "Men Of a Certain Age" (TNT, 10 p.m.) is new, as is the ABC Family lineup of "Secret Life of an American Teenager" and "Make It or Break It," beginning at 8 p.m.