PASADENA, Calif.–There’s been a lot of speculation on this press tour about NBC jamming Jay Leno in at 11:30 leading into a new, midnight, half hour Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. Anybody who saw the steam coming out of O’Brien’s nostrils on Friday’s Tonight Show could tell there is some danger of this actually happening. New York Times TV columnist Bill Carter, the guy who usually has the scoop on all things late night, says don’t bet against it.
But what about the late night host who, while the house of Peacock bursts into flames, has quietly wrestled back the late night crown?
CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler told critics today that “the ink is almost dry” on David Letterman’s contract extension.
Letterman’s current deal with CBS to host “Late Show” expires at the end on this summer. CBS spokesman Chris Ender suggested after Tassler’s session that the new Letterman deal will extend “deep into 2012.”
Tassler says there was no panic in CBC programming offices when Letterman dropped the bomb last fall about his affairs with female workers on his staff and the alleged extortion attempt that brought them to light. “I think he handled it brilliantly, he got out in front of everything,” said Tassler.
Letterman joked on the air the night of his confession that he hoped he wouldn’t lose his job. Although CBS executives were naturally nervous at first, there was never any threat of that happening, said Tassler.
As the semi-annual network press tour got underway Saturday, Tassler was peppered with questions from critics across North America about the rumours swirling Letterman’s late night rival Jay Leno. Tassler kept referring to NBC’s 10 o’clock strategy to program “The Jay Leno” five nights a week as “an experiment” that none of her programming colleagues are surprised has failed. CBS has been happy to pick up “a bigger piece of the revenue pie at 10 o’clock,” she says. The shame of it all, she says, is that the “creative community has been somewhat bruised by all of this,” with NBC shutting down drama and other scripted show development heading into the “Leno” launch (they have since ramped it up to a very high level, with 18 project on the go as potential “Leno” replacements).
“The thing is, ultimately,” said Tassler, “there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent and getting your programs on the air.”
NBC executive are expected to address their upcoming late night and Leno strategies Sunday before critics at press tour.

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