Affiliates head offers a solution to NBC's Letterman/Leno puzzle


LOS ANGELES -- The president of NBC's affiliate board has made a dramatic proposal to keep both Jay Leno and David Letterman at the network by moving "The Tonight Show" to 10 p.m. and "Late Night" to 11:30 p.m.

"NBC's prime time is third, and it's not as if they would be replacing a winning schedule with something chancy," said Jim Waterbury, head of the affiliate board and the general manager of KWWL in Waterloo, Iowa. "Leno is decidedly mainstream, just like prime time. Larry King has shown on CNN that you can do this and it is the closest thing to a national town meeting."

"Late Night With David Letterman," Mr. Waterbury said, could then move into the 11:30 p.m. slot, now occupied by "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." "NBC is looking for the 18-to-49-year-old audience and Letterman is clearly that," he said.

1% Mr. Waterbury said the idea could

also work with Mr. Letterman starting first.

NBC spokeswoman Pat Schultz said the network has "no comment" on the proposal, which was pitched to NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield.

Mr. Waterbury said he did not poll all the network affiliates to get a unified opinion before pitching his idea to the network. "We are 209 markets," he said. "There is no collective opinion."

Mr. Leno said he liked the idea, but as long as "I am at 11:30 p.m."

Mr. Letterman isn't talking, but he already has turned down a Thursday night prime-time show that would replace "L.A. Law."

NBC has until Jan. 15 to match CBS' offer to Mr. Letterman to become host of an 11:30 p.m. talk show. Almost everyone agrees that the coming General Electric operating managers meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., which Mr. Littlefield and Mr. Agolia will attend, will be crucial in deciding the network's plan. GE is the parent company of NBC.

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