Sunday, May 24, 2009

News round-up: let's all stick it to Jay Leno!

HBO's The Late Shift.

Next Monday, June 1, marks the debut of the new time-shifted NBC late-night schedule.

What this means is that it's almost the same NBC schedule as before: Leno followed by Conan O'Brien hosting the Tonight Show, but now broadcast an hour earlier. The big news is that NBC is saving money by showing Leno five nights a week, rather than the expensive 10 p.m. dramas that used to be the network's bread and butter.

I've said before that I think the big loser here is probably O'Brien, who was promised the real "Tonight Show," but is now hosting "a" Tonight Show with the same lead-in he's had for the last decade: Jay Leno.
"Some competitors suggested Mr. O’Brien might be less than happy to still be following Mr. Leno. “I think this could kill Conan,” said an executive from a rival network. “He won’t be getting a good lead-in and viewers will already have seen a late-night style show.” - New York Times
Will viewers even notice a difference? The previews for the new Leno show look about as funny as the old Leno show, which is: not at all.
"According to Jay Leno himself, it’ll be just like his old show but with more ’stunts’. And stunt number one? Seeing how quickly he can send Conan O’Brien into the depths of gibbering impotent psychosis. We imagine." - Stuart Heritage
Globe and Mail sticks it to Leno

Last week, John Doyle was the first to kick the crap out of Leno in his Globe article headlined, "Jay Leno can't save NBC." Here's the lead:

"Train wreck alert: Jay Leno.

"Jay Leno is not funny. Leno is a tedious, rat-a-tat 10th-rate joke machine lacking real wit, nuance or edge. But, you know, NBC has this plan to save the network by airing an hour of Leno at 10 p.m. every weeknight. I'm telling you now, this could be a total disaster."

CBS' response

Then there's CBS - the most-watched network in America - which has adjusted its 10 p.m. shows to account for Leno. Says Ellen Gray at "No one seems more excited about "The Jay Leno Show" than the programmers at CBS."

The Late Shift

This week, HBO Canada is reshowing its 1996 movie, the Late Shift, based on the book of the same title by Bill Carter, the New York Times TV reporter.

The book was written, and the movie produced, back when Letterman was still killing Leno in the ratings: it's no secret that Carter considers Letterman a talent for the ages, and Leno a hollow imitator.

Most recently, Carter wrote this scathing piece about Ben Silverman, NBC's co-chief of entertainment: NBC hired a hit maker. It's still waiting, in which he practically dares NBC to fire Silverman. Can't wait for his Leno follow-up article.

If you can't wait to watch the Late Shift, you can start here on YouTube, where some nice soul has posted the whole thing.

Boston affiliate takes Leno after all

WHDH, the NBC affiliate in Boston, originally announced that it won't air Leno's talk show, because a local newscast would draw higher ratings. It eventually changed its mind, with this mild endorsement from its owner:
"Jay is from Andover, where I went to school. I enjoy his humor. We hope the new show is a big success."
Grand finale...

And, best for last, Lynne Hirschberg's big tribute to Conan in this week's New York Times Magazine.

The article chronicles how Leno screwed over Conan:

"As he became increasingly disgruntled, Leno began entertaining offers from other networks.

"To entice him to stay at NBC, Zucker offered Leno a daytime show, a cable show, a series of specials. When Leno turned all those down, Zucker proposed a half-hour show, five nights a week at 8 p.m. “Eight p.m. doesn’t work,” Leno explained.

"Zucker made his final plea: an hourlong show at 10 p.m., five nights a week. To Zucker’s surprise, Leno agreed. “I have believed, for a long time, that there should be a daily prime-time program with a topical format,” Zucker told me. “The advantage of a show like that is it’s easy to join, DVR-proof due to its topicality and different.”
And, the punchline: could the real winner be Letterman?
"Senior-level executives at NBC, who requested anonymity, say they fear that (Jay's) new show will be trounced by hourlong dramas (especially on CBS) and viewers will venture elsewhere, well before 11:30 and O’Brien.

"Many see Leno’s move to 10 p.m. as a boost for David Letterman. Letterman was Carson’s pick — when Carson retired, he appeared twice on Dave’s show and never on Jay’s — and he’s revered in the tight-knit community of comedy writers, many of whom, like O’Brien, grew up watching him.

"Letterman’s cool irony can make him seem unkind, but it can also create thrilling comedy out of unexpected situtations. On Feb. 11, Letterman’s interview with a heavily bearded, quasi-comatose Joaquin Phoenix not only offered up Letterman at his best but demonstrated why talk shows endure even as the TV audience becomes increasingly fragmented.

“When Dave is good,” O’Brien told me the day after the Phoenix episode, “no one is better. At moments like that, I can’t touch him.”

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