After only four months, NBC looks like it might be ready to pull the plug on its misguided move of Jay Leno to prime time. A new latenight lineup, as first reported here by TMZ.com, involves Leno returning to latenight where he was king. He would likely start back in with a half hour show airing weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on March 1 after the Winter Olympics.

The Olympics will run on NBC from Feb. 12 to 28, but Leno would leave prime time on Feb. 1 so that NBC angry affiliates would not have to suffer though another portion of a "sweeps" ratings period with their advertising revenues depressed by Leno's weak lead-in at 11 p.m. The Olympics programming gives the network a chance to shuffle the lineup with the cushion of more than two weeks of special programming.


Under the proposed scenario, Conan O'Brien, who moved to the West Coast last year from New York to host Leno's old "Tonight" show, would slide back to 12:05 a.m., while Jimmy Fallon would follow O'Brien with a late, late latenight show starting at 1:05 a.m.. Leno would be back in part of the time period where he dominated in the ratings over David Letterman on CBS and Nightline on ABC.

Here's video of Leno joking about the rumors on his Thursday night show:

NBC was said to be in discussions with Leno and O'Brien on Thursday, which means an announcement could be made as soon as Friday.

I have been reporting for months -- often in the face of denials from NBC affiliate managers -- that the Leno lead-in has been hammering their bottom lines. Read one story here. Affiliate managers insisted this was a "52-week" plan, and that I had to give it a year before even starting to judge it. But some of those same managers are now on the verge of revolt if something isn't done, and it looks like the Jay Leno prime time plan isn't going to make it to 26 weeks.

The affiliates have had enough of the "Leno Effect" especially in cities like Baltimore where late news ratings have been cut in half by Leno's wretched lead-in at 11 for WBAL-TV.  WJZ-TV, which used to run neck-and-neck with WBAL at 11 p.m., now dominates in ratings for the most lucrative newscast of the broadcast day.

NBC has put off dealing with the Leno debacle as long as it could. The comedian said in November that he would be willing to move back to latenight, but nothing of this magnitude could be decided until the sale to Comcast was made last month.

Getting Leno out of prime time is going to cost money with the network ordering a raft of new drama pilots and series But it does have options until the pipeline of five new nights worth of programs can start to produce. Olympics programming will give them cushion of more than two weeks during which times they can stockpile extra episodes of their most successful comedies and dramas -- not that last place NBC has that many.

Furthermore, the new Comcast-NBC-Universal can run dramas off its cable channels, double-run extra episodes of sitcoms and put the newsmagazine Dateline in the 10 p.m. timeslot for a while.

As far as the affiliates are concerned, anything but Leno will be a considered a blessing come February sweeps. But if this switch takes place -- and right now it is still an "if" -- it will be one of the most spectacular reversals in the history of network TV.