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NBC Affils Chairman: Yanking Jay Was ‘Best Decision They Could've Made'

NBC's decision to end its ballyhooed Jay Leno primetime program at the start of the Olympics Feb. 12 is the "best decision they could've made," says NBC affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile. Concern from the affiliates had been mounting since not long after the show's splashy launch in September, as the general managers saw their vital late news lead-ins plummet. Representing the affiliate body, Fiorile met with NBC last week about the issue.

Asked to sum up the affiliates' reaction to today's news, Fiorile said "relieved." "They're pleased with the programming change," he added.

With NBC loading up on development projects, the affiliates now anticipate what will take Jay Leno's place at 10. Fiorile said the board asked about keeping the time slot for affiliates, but the network has its own plans for the crucial slot. "We asked for 10 p.m. and the network did not have any interest in doing that at this time," he says.

The affiliates board had extraordinary input in The Jay Leno Show, receiving windows to promote their late news and working with the network on keeping the audience tuned in throughout. Fiorile says he's surprised it didn't fare better. "We were optimistic going into it," he says. "But at the end of the day, the viewers decide."

The affiliates-who, through it all, never bad-mouthed Leno himself--also had a big say in the rookie's premature demise. Addressing TV critics in Los Angeles today, NBC entertainment chief Jeff Gaspin commented, "While it was performing at acceptable levels for the network, it did not meet our affiliates' needs and we realized we had to make a change."

Fiorile gives NBC credit for listening to its member stations. "We asked them to make a change and they responded," he says. "They've been a pretty good partner throughout all of this."