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After only four months, NBC officially pulled the plug on Jay Leno's prime-time career Sunday, announcing "The Jay Leno Show" would leave the airwaves when the the Winter Olympics arrive on Feb. 12.

Trying to salvage some face-saving spin to the end, NBC Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin explained the move by saying Leno's show was somewhat successful by network terms, but it did not "meet the needs" of the affiliates.

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In fact, the weak lead-in provided by Leno cost NBC affiliates millions of dollars. No station in the nation suffered worse than WBAL-TV in Baltimore, which lost more than one-half of its 11 p.m. news audience since Leno came to prime time.

"I think the network is being responsive to the requests of the affiliates, who are greatly appreciative of all the work Jay Leno has done," Said Jordan Wertlieb, general manager of WBAL-TV, the Hearst-owned NBC affiliate in Baltimore. "But, unfortunately, the show was not providing a sufficient lead-in to our late news."

NBC wants to put Leno on at 11:35 p.m. for a half hour show starting March 1, but Gaspin said that deal is not yet in place. One huge sticking point involves whether Conan O'Brien will allow his late night show, "The Tonight Show," to be moved back to a 12:05 a.m start time.

The drama is not over. Fox has made it clear that it would like to sign O'Brien, and the Leno move would allow O'Brien the opportunity of voiding his $20 million a year pact with NBC for a better offer from Fox.

Sources at both NBC and affiliates have stressed that O'Brien is the performer NBC wants to keep.

"O'Brien is the future," one station manager familiar with the talks between NBC and the performers said this weekend.

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