Television host Jay Leno
Television host Jay Leno - 
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Kai Ryssdal: U.S. television networks are gearing up for their annual ritual of advertising excess known as the upfronts, that's when they trot out next season's show schedule to entice ad buyers to buy. NBC is pinning its hopes on Jay Leno as he moves from late night to 10 p.m. And it's hinting at an extra incentive to lure those ad dollars, as Marketplace's Rico Gagliano reports.

RICO GAGLIANO: Remember back in TV's heyday? Sometimes Johnny Carson would tell you exactly what to buy, right in the middle of his show.

JOHNNY CARSON: Really, I'd like to stop kidding around right now and get down to the business at hand, which of course is the 1972 Budweiser campaign.

Well, those days could be coming back. Yesterday in New York, NBC's Mike Pilot suggested Carson's heir, Jay Leno, isn't afraid to quote "experiment with live commercials" on his new prime-time show. That's a purposely vague word, "experiment." But Marissa Gluck of Radar Research says she wouldn't be surprised if Leno does end up appearing in live ads.

MARISSA GLUCK: NBC is in fourth place. NBC doesn't have a single show in the top 10. So I think there's a level of desperation there.

To be clear, Leno already features live ads on his current show. He just doesn't directly participate, leaving the huckster duties to others, like announcer John Melendez. According to USC Marketing Professor Kenneth Wilbur, NBC would be wise to step up its live ads in the age of Tivo.

KENNETH WILBUR: NBC's audience is more tech-savvy. They have higher rates of digital video recorder usage than the other networks. So by putting Jay Leno directly into the advertisements, it lowers the probability that viewers will fast-forward past them.

The question, of course, is whether Leno would actually do it. NBC is keeping the picture murky, saying only they're in quote "conversations" about how to structure advertising on what could be the cash cow they've been lacking.

In Los Angeles, I'm Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.