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Published: Sunday, 12/14/2008

Leno's prime-time leap

FANS of late-night TV king Jay Leno can look forward to earlier bedtimes in 2009. When his contract with The Tonight Show is up next year, the big-chinned funny man won't be jumping to competitors ABC or Fox.

Instead, Mr. Leno has agreed to move his show to 10 p.m. weekdays. NBC executives announced that Conan O'Brien, who currently follows him at 12:30 a.m., will move up an hour to The Tonight Show's time slot in May, while the revamped Leno show will debut next fall.

With Mr. Leno the longtime ratings leader at 11:30 p.m., the prospect of his defection was too much for NBC to chance, so the network offered him prime time and $30 million a year.

The move is not without its risks, though. Mr. Leno will go up against stiffer competition from shows at that hour than he faced from David Letterman or Nightline, and the program alternatives for viewers will vary night after night. Still, the cost of mounting the Leno show will be a fraction of what it takes to produce original dramas in that time slot.

Assuming that most of his fans continue to tune in, Mr. Leno will have proven to be a good investment for the network.

And it should be a TV experiment worth watching.

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