NBC intends to turn over its 10:00 p.m. hour to Jay Leno, published reports said today (Tuesday), citing network sources. An official announcement is expected by this afternoon. The reports indicated that the network plans to make few changes to the show and that it made the decision primarily to avoid losing Leno to a competing network. Today's New York Timesobserved that the decision will likely "reap an enormous financial benefit from this move." It noted that although Leno is expected to receive a salary of some $30 million a year, the network currently pays about $15 million a week to fill the 10:00 p.m. hour. Leno's show, it said, will probably cost about $2 million a week. (The Wall Street Journalestimated the savings at about $25 million a week, less Leno's salary.) But one industry exec told today's Washington Post, "You don't make this move unless you have a whole lot of holes to fill. ... This is an indictment of the complete collapse of [NBC's primetime] over the last four or five years."


NBC, already in the throes of corporate upheaval with the sacking of several key executives, may make unprecedented moves to cut costs further, including reducing the number of hours it broadcasts each week and perhaps eliminating Saturday-night and/or Friday-night programming entirely, NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker indicated Monday. Speaking at the annual UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, Zucker asked: "Can we continue to broadcast 22 hours in primetime? Three of our competitors don't. ... Can we continue to broadcast seven days a week? One of our competitors doesn't." (Fox generally airs two hours of primetime programming a night, except for Sunday when it airs three; The other competitors, CW and MyNetworkTV, are regarded as specialized program distributors more akin to syndication companies than traditional broadcast networks.) Zucker told the group that NBC is "actively looking at all these options," adding that NBC is "trying to change the broadcast model. You have to have a steel stomach to do some of these changes." However, if broadcasters do not consider them, "we'll wind up like the newspaper industry, or worse. ... I don't want to be a company that files for bankruptcy." Later, he insisted in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter: "It's not giving up. It's not retrenching. It's not throwing in the towel."


NBC confirmed Monday that it plans to reconfigure its executive ranks under two new production heads, one for scripted programs, the other for nonscripted ones. Angela Bromstad, it said, will become president of scripted programming, taking over the role previously performed by Katherine Pope, Teri Weinberg and other yet-to-be fired executives. Paul Telegdy, a former BBC America executive who helped develop ABC's Dancing With the Stars, replaces Craig Plestis. The moves come as NBC has been unable to mount a single hit show during the current season.


In an announcement that some observers saw as a surrender of the old media to the new, turnaround maven Sam Zell said Monday that his Tribune Co. is seeking bankruptcy court protection. Tribune has indeed turned around since Zell took the company private in a leveraged buyout a year ago -- but in the wrong direction. Some analysts predicted that the company, if it continues to exist, will eventually become a shadow of its former self, done in by the digital age. "Factors beyond our control have created a perfect storm," Zell said in the statement. The storm had continued to lash Tribune's newspapers and broadcasting outlets with increasing ferocity throughout the year. Nevertheless, Zell's statement offered the company's employees a faint hope that Tribune would weather the storm. "We're doing what's right for the business to save the business," Zell said. But it was clear to some analysts that what Zell and his advisers have been doing -- cutting jobs and selling assets -- has only deepened the company's problems. Zell offered no strategy for attracting new revenue to offset lost income from retreating advertisers and the cost of servicing his debt. Before the bankruptcy filing, analysts expressed concern that Tribune would be unable to come up with more than $1 billion in interest payments due before the end of the month. Some news reports suggested that Zell's next step may amount to corporate surgery -- perhaps shutting down one of Tribune's newspapers -- they include the Chicago Tribune,the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun -- or selling off several or all of the 27 television stations and the WGN national superstation that the company owns. However, they note gloomily, the company's assets of $7.6 billion comes nowhere close to its $12.9-billion debt. "Our challenges are consistent with those facing all media companies," Zell said in his statement, suggesting to some that Zell's actions might amount to a harbinger for the industry and that December 8, 2008 might eventually mark the day that the traditional news business died.


More than a month after the presidential election, ABC News has unearthed a 30-second TV commercial produced by Sen. John McCain's supporters that criticized Barack Obama's association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The commercial, which McCain refused to authorize, was posted on the network's website. ABC News said that it was unusual for a campaign to spend the time and money necessary to produce a polished commercial even after the candidate for which it was made -- McCain -- had said that he did not want to raise the Wright issue in his campaign. In the commercial, an announcer says that McCain "chose to honor his fellow soldiers by refusing to walk out of a prisoner of war camp," while Obama "chose not to even walk out of a church where a pastor was spewing hatred." Wright is then shown at the pulpit, declaring "Not God bless America, but God damn America." The commercial's producer, Fred Davis, told ABC News that it was a mistake for the McCain campaign to reject the commercial. "The contrast of characters could have been an important part of the campaign if raised early on," Davis said.