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Seinfeld applauds NBC's failed talk experiment

By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Jerry Seinfeld defended NBC's late-night stumbles on Sunday, and said the network's apparent demotion of Conan O'Brien hasn't wounded the "Tonight Show" host.

In a major retreat, NBC said earlier in the day it would cancel former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno's ill-starred primetime foray next month, and hoped to return him to the coveted 11:35 p.m. slot currently occupied by O'Brien.

In turn, it envisaged bumping O'Brien back to 12:05 a.m. and Jimmy Fallon to 1:05 a.m., but said it had not worked out deals with any of the talk-show hosts.

Seinfeld compared NBC's decision to air "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m. to the vilified AOL/Time Warner deal noting, if you replace "AOL" with "Google" and advance the date to today, suddenly the deal doesn't look too bad.

"It was the right idea at the wrong time," said Seinfeld, who occasionally satirized his own dealings with the network's executives in his NBC sitcom. "I also think this was the right idea at the wrong time. I'm proud that NBC had the guts to try something."

Asked what he would do if he was O'Brien and NBC had seemingly broken its promise to let him become the network's premium late-night host, Seinfeld said he wouldn't complain.

"What did the network do to him?" Seinfeld asked. "I don't think anyone's preventing people from watching Conan. Once they give you the cameras, it's on you. I can't blame NBC for having to move things around. I hope Conan stays, I think he's terrific. But there's no rules in show business, there's no refs."

Seinfeld was on hand to promote his show "The Marriage Ref," where couples have their disputes solved by a celebrity panel. The show will receive a special preview coming out of the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Sunday, February 28. Guests will include Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Charles Barkley. Critics weren't shown any footage, a scarcity that's been a theme with this project. Though the "Ref" was announced back in May and premieres next month, the network has yet to see a complete episode.

When asked why the show features celebrity panelists instead of experts guiding the couples, Seinfeld quipped, "Because experts are helpful."

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