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Speculation swirls around Jay Leno, primetime show's future

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Prime-time shake-up?
  • Jay Leno jokes about cancellation rumors during Thursday's opening monologue
  • NBC affiliates claim 'Jay Leno Show' is hurting their late-news ratings
  • New York Times: Leno will get 30-minute show at 11:30 p.m. ET, followed by Conan O'Brien

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Entertainer Jay Leno did the ol' soft shoe as speculation swirled that NBC might cancel his show or move it back to the 11:35 p.m. ET time slot.

"The Jay Leno Show," now airing at 10 p.m., has had lackluster ratings since its debut in September, hurting affiliates as the lead-in to the evening news. If NBC makes the move, it would create a domino effect for the network's other late-night programming -- "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."

The New York Times reported that NBC wants to move Leno's show to the later start time and shrink it to 30 minutes from its current hour-long configuration, knocking O'Brien to 12:05 a.m.

"We have the best comedy team in the business," NBC spokeswomen Rebecca Marks said Thursday evening in response to the speculation. "We remain committed to keeping Conan O'Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night lineup, as he has been for more than 16 years and is one of the most respected entertainers on television."

Leno tackled the issue with his typical humor.

"As you may have heard, there's a rumor floating around we were canceled. I heard it coming in this morning on the radio," Leno said during his monologue. "So far, nobody said anything to me, but ... you know, if we did get canceled, it would give us some time to maybe do some traveling. In fact, I understand FOX is beautiful this time of year.

"Actually, I don't think there's any truth to the rumors," Leno continued. "See, it's always been my experience NBC only cancels you when you're in first place, so we're fine."

In another quip, Leno asked: "What does NBC stand for? Never believe your contract."