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.
(Michael Schneider writes forB&C sister publicationDaily Variety)
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