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Prime-time Leno experiment was great for us: CBS chief

PASADENA, Calif. -- The failed Jay Leno experiment was great for business — at CBS.

CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said Saturday her network took in more advertising revenue for its 10 p.m. dramas because NBC decided to put Leno's comedy show on at that hour five nights a week. NBC is considering moving Leno back to late-night TV because its affiliates are upset that the show's low prime-time ratings are hurting late local news programs.

“Ten o'clock is a great business for us,” Tassler said. “The unfortunate thing is that our creative community was to some degree somewhat bruised by this ... A lot of people were put out of work. A lot of people really saw this as having a negative effect on our business.”

Hollywood actors, writers and producers had been upset about Leno's show from the beginning, seeing it as taking away from prime-time hours usually filled by scripted shows.

Tassler said that NBC keeps seeming to come up with new prime-time strategies to deal with its ratings troubles when “there's no substitute for just developing and producing and launching great shows.”

While NBC is still unsure what its late-night lineup will be, Tassler said CBS is close to signing deals that will keep David Letterman and Craig Ferguson in place through mid-2012.

NBC sends its executives to meet with journalists in Pasadena on Sunday, but it's still not clear if they'll have anything to announce. Under a scenario that would bring Leno back to late-night, the Conan O'Brien-hosted “Tonight” show would move back a half hour, and it's not known whether he'll accept that.

He might find a warm welcome waiting for him at Fox.

Fox respects O'Brien's talent and sees him as a good fit, a person at the network said Friday. The person, who lacked authority to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Fox was watching to see how the situation played out but that O'Brien remained under contract with NBC.

Representatives for O'Brien did not immediately respond to requests for comment about his plans.

ABC, for its part, indicated a lack of interest if O'Brien becomes a free agent.

“With all due respect to Conan, we like the late night hand that we are currently playing,” the network, home of “Nightline” in the late-night slot, said in a statement Friday.

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