NEW YORK - NBC reportedly has signed its late-night star Jay Leno to a contract that will keep him at the network and move him to prime time.
Under the new deal, Leno, whose "Tonight" show hosting job will go to Conan O'Brien next June, would have a show airing 10 p.m. Eastern every weeknight, according to the New York Times.
The arrangement would enable NBC to hold on to Leno, who might have jumped to a competing network, and even been on the air as a rival to O'Brien.
It also stands to significantly reduce programming costs for the struggling network, which has long been No. 4 in the ratings and last week laid off 500 employees. Leno's five-a-week talk-variety format would be considerably cheaper to produce than most scripted dramatic series.
Leno, who took over "Tonight" from Johnny Carson in 1992, is effectively being evicted from the "Tonight" anchor desk under a deal NBC announced four years ago that guaranteed the job to "Late Night" host O'Brien. *