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Upfronts 2009: NBC Sought Primetime Oprah

A few years before NBC sealed a deal with Jay Leno to host a nightly series in primetime, the net approached David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey about taking on similar gigs.

In both cases, Peacock execs were looking to fill the 8 p.m. slot across the week. NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker said he talked to Winfrey two years ago about moving her show to 8 weeknights on the network, but she declined. According to Zucker, Winfrey said she might have considered it a few years earlier, but it wasn't the right fit at that point.

Zucker said the idea for a Letterman strip at 8 p.m. was floated to the CBS host about 10 years ago.

Actually, NBC looked at moving "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" into primetime as early as 1981. Zucker has a memo describing a study that was conducted to see about doing such a thing.

Back then, as now, NBC was having a difficult time in the ratings -- although this time around, the 10 p.m. play was as much about keeping Jay Leno within the Peacock family as it was about shoring up the net's schedule.

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(Michael Schneider writes forB&C sister publicationDaily Variety)