Tag Archives: The Jay Leno Show

Watch the Throne: NBC & the Future of ‘The Tonight Show’

Jimmy Fallon Thank You NotesHere we are again, NBC looking ahead to replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show with a hipper, younger host, and a hipper, younger brand. This time, in place of the loose-limbed bean pole with the shock of untamable red locks as successor, we have the shaggy-haired giggle monster and impression impresario as Tonight Show usurper. So what makes NBC think that Jimmy Fallon is the right man for the job – only three years after Conan abdicated – and, perhaps more importantly, why now?

We actually take a somewhat different view from many television critics and media pundits, who believe this is history repeating itself, with the buffoons at NBC either incapable or unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Yes, if you look at the raw data, this move perhaps makes even less sense than the promotion of Conan to the Tonight Show desk in the summer of 2009. Leno, after returning to the late night centerpiece in February 2010, has held his own, even gaining viewers while NBC’s ratings have plummeted. Fallon, only four years and nineteen days removed from his maiden voyage on Late Night, is perhaps not quite ready yet to ascend, whether that be because he needs to further polish and refine his skills, or because he has not yet established enough of a viewership to command a promotion to Johnny Carson’s old spot. Is Jimmy Fallon, who just a decade ago was the  goofball on SNL who couldn’t keep a straight face, ready to tuck in the nation’s older viewers and Slow Jam the News them to bed? And what’s to stop Jay Leno from jumping ship to another network and sticking it to NBC, a possibility  was such a concern four years ago that the Peacock gave Jay a 10pm show, an unequivocal unmitigated disaster.

As Bill Carter reports,* this seems to be all but a done deal, with relations between Jay and the network sinking to an all-time low, bitter invective being spewed on each side. Leno, we can assume, is offended by the lack of respect and credit; after all, he’s still winning his slot while the network crumbles, he’s been a good soldier and has gotten nothing but grief for it. But here’s what’s important, and what makes this different from the Conan situation: as Wired argues in their latest issue, the Nielsen Family is dead and the traditional television model is obsolete. Installing Fallon as Tonight Show host – as reports say will happen by the end of 2014 – is not as much about challenging the upstart and Fallon contemporary Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, as it is about trying a new model, attempting to break out of the box. Fallon has built up a rabid fan base with silly sketches and fun games and brilliant taped pieces, all of which have appealed to the web’s viral culture. Certainly, a popular YouTube video – even one as popular as Justin Timberlake delivering an cappella version of “SexyBack” – doesn’t goose ratings, and it doesn’t do much to affect the bottom line. However, it is indicative of Fallon’s place at the vanguard of new media, of new viewing habits, and at the changing of the guard. Will Fallon alienate some of Leno’s longtime loyal viewers, sending them to Letterman or Kimmel or maybe just to bed early? Sure. But does it really matter, in this current television climate? We’re not so sure.

Also, it’s important to remember that NBC is a moribund enterprise right now. And while that may initially lead one to think that they should keep the one thing that seems to be working, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, we think the opposite is true. So much is dysfunctional at NBC right now that it might be worth it to blow the whole thing up. When you’re routinely getting smacked around by the likes of Univision and AMC and USA (NBC’s own less glamorous, but often more successful cable cousin), why not cut off your perfectly fine nose to spite your brutally beaten face? In a television landscape where numbers mean less and less, NBC, more than any other of the big four networks needs to get creative and change the paradigm. Putting Jay on at 10pm four years ago was changing the game the other way, backward thinking in trying to keep old viewers while embracing new, trying to maximize value under the old model. Moving Fallon to the big chair is looking the other way, trying to stay head of the curve. Why be a slave to the old design, why cling to some antiquated rule that The Tonight Show needs to be in Los Angeles and why keep struggling against the Leno albatross? In a television world where late night talk shows are increasingly irrelevant, why not take a shot a true irreverence? Really, what does NBC have to lose?

Some light background reading:

Conan: Barbarian or Adventurer?

In Defense of Jay Leno/How He Might Screw This All Up AKA More Thoughts on Late Shift 2: Dave’s Revenge

The One in Which We Compare Conan O’Brien to Barack Obama

*Really, what does Bill Carter report on other than late night talk show behind-the-scenes machinations? Can we get his job if and when he retires? We don’t even mind signing a contract stipulating that we will inherit his position in five years or else be paid a steep pay or play penalty).
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Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Count Bleh, Flashback!, Must Flee TV, Other people's stuff, Talkies

On the Olympics: Testing Our Medal

We’ve recently returned from a week-long sojourn to a tropical paradise, and thus were unable to commit the 10-12 hours a day we hoped watching the NBC Networks Olympic coverage of events like water polo, handball, indoor volleyball, ping-pong (sorry, table tennis), field hockey and trap shooting.  We were, however, able to catch part of NBC’s prime time telecasts, the carefully cultivated, perfectly orchestrated alchemy of prestigious events of which the Americans just happen to win the majority.  And if you think watching NBC’s tape delay broadcasts here in America is tough, try doing it twenty miles (or was it kilometers?) from Venezuela.

Upset about the admittedly completely unnecessary and pedantic Mary Carillo explains London segments? Fine.  But better than coverage not starting til 9pm EST and then finding the telecast constantly interrupted by an unknown Aruban man in a desolate, sad locker room set, serving as something of a local Bob Costas amid open lockers and prop gym bags.  Even worse is that these interstitials preempted the commercials.  The Olympics is the Super Bowl of commercials.  Normally we’d prefer to fast-forward right through all of them, but if we had our choice of watching a random guy pontificate about Michael Phelps in Papiamento or watching every single McDonald’s commercial, we’d choose the latter.  At least the second option gives us a the chance for a sports celebrity cameo, or a catchy jingle, or, God willing, a new Happy Meal Toy.  Or we could just use that time to visit the bathroom or get a snack, but, instead, while Aruban Bob Costas chats with the small island’s foremost track and field expert, we flip over to Lifetime to see if Forrest Gump is still on, not sure how long this detour from London is going to last (which, we admit, is a very specific experience, so we apologize if this particular situation does not apply to you).

Okay, so we’re exaggerating here.  It really wasn’t that bad.  But neither is watching the main events on tape delay here in the contiguous US of A, despite all the caustic vitriol  spat at NBC over its delayed gratification approach to the games.  What the people who level all the criticism at NBC for withholding the most interesting (to Americans) events til after 8pm (and, really, til 11pm) don’t seem to consider, or put much stock in to, is that most Americans (save for those who are currently employed and spend most of their day watching Razon Ramon documentaries producing high quality journalism and insightful media criticism), aren’t home at 2pm to watch the entirety of the Tween Women’s Uneven Bars final.  That doesn’t mean that NBC couldn’t cling to journalistic integrity, demonstrate a responsibility to delivering unfiltered, untainted Olympics coverage, and air the whole event live.  But then what?  Rebroadcast it again later?  In its entirety?  Or in repeats is it permissible to edit the events down?  And does NBC, even with its seemingly infinite cadre of cable channels, have the airtime to show the same competition twice?  On the other hand, if they air everything in real-time, what does NBC show in prime-time?  Grimm repeats?  Rock Center: Live from Westminster Abbey?  Start the Tonight Show three hours early?  No.  Make no mistake, NBC has not spent billions of dollars securing the rights to the Olympics to present sports in the most comprehensive, informative, honest and fan-friendly way.  They’re in it for the same reason ESPN is (despite what its acronym might imply), to make gobs and boatloads and gobloads of money.  Let’s not forget that.

And let’s not hold that against them.  For NBC, the Olympics is a two-week-long special edition of America’s Got Talent (Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) and The Biggest Loser (Mckayla Maroney, any country other than the USA).  It’s the marketing push Whitney really needed.  And to suggest that NBC has some responsibility to the American citizen not to present the most popular events in the most melodramatic, heavily-edited, Al Trautwig-hosted, Cinderella-story way is silly, and, really, hypocritical.  Yank all 10pm dramas in favor of Jay Leno, shame on NBC.  Expect NBC not to value Olympic ratings above all else, shame on you.

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Filed under Across the pond, Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Matt Christopher Books, Must See TV