Saturday, January 9, 2010

Late night leaderboard

Boy, what a difference a few days make.

Earlier this week, I planned on watching The Jay Leno Show Monday - Friday and then posting my impressions about what I thought worked, didn't work, and should change. I already have some ideas (the monologue works, the ad placements don't, and the man desperately needs a desk), but I wanted to experience every minute of the show to maybe pick up some things I'd missed in my previous periodic viewings.

And then the word came down: Plan Jay was in effect. I won't beat my chest too hard in having predicted this course of action -- come on, it was pretty obvious, right? -- but the timing surprises me: I thought it would take a little longer for all of this to happen. But I suppose when you have affiliates screaming bloody murder over the ratings dip, prompt action is called for.

And good for NBC for doing it sooner rather than later. I never liked the idea -- NBC effectively canceled the #1 program in its time slot against the wishes of its creative team (Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond, then, are different cases) -- but they're now trying to take corrective action.

But I don't think they're going far enough.

The plan now is to take Jay's show back to 11:30 pm, trim it to 30 minutes long, and move The Tonight Show to 12:05 am. Contractually, this means NBC won't owe Conan any penalty payments, because his contract stipulates that NBC can move the show to 12:05 am (but no later) without his consent.

But it's a half measure, and I don't like half measures. To fully correct course as much as NBC must correct course, they must:
  • Part with Conan if he doesn't voluntarily leave over these shenanigans.
  • Move Jay back to The Tonight Show.
  • Keep Jimmy Fallon on The Late Show.
  • Announce that they're ready to listen to any and all hour-long drama pitches for the reawakened 10 pm slot. This announcement should be made in person to some of the biggest players, including Southland producer John Wells (how NBC must wish they kept that one in their lineup). Yes, they should do this even though they have already ordered 18 pilots for next season.
But I don't think this is going to happen. Conan isn't going to walk away from all of that money.* Instead, he'll announce his decision to stay during a monologue and say he's committed to the franchise that Johnny Carson was committed to for so many years. And he will dedicate himself to winning over the folks who don't currently seem too won over by him right now. In the end, it could work for him. It has before: his Late Show went from canceled to successful, remember.

So NBC's plan seems like it's the one we're going to be stuck with. Worse things could happen, I suppose, like giving Chevy Chase his own talk show.

A few quick thoughts:
  • Talking about The Jay Leno Show for, Mediaweek's Marc Berman said, "I've honestly never seen anything this bad in the history of television." Um, hyperbole much, Marc? Because I sure have.
  • It's amazing how accepted ageism is. Many of the posts I've read in forums or blogs online slam Leno for being old. Like, "Ah, he's old, so he sucks." Of course, if you go looking for class -- or articulation -- in such places, you're always going to be disappointed.
  • Yes, I keep Jimmy Fallon over Conan. I don't want to dump on Conan -- the guy's a legitimate talent, as his show biz ascendancy illustrates -- but I just think Jimmy's got more upside right now.
  • Andy Barker, PI -- one of my favorite programs of the last few years -- was created by Conan. Can NBC maybe give him a production deal to salve his wounds? I'd love to see Andy Richter more.
Now for the leaderboard:
  1. Letterman
  2. Ferguson
  3. Fallon
  4. O'Brien (who has, ironically enough, been rising in my own estimations)
  5. Leno
  6. Kimmel
  7. Golf pro John Daly (way to lose all that weight!)
Again, those top spots can change quickly depending on guests, etc. It's a credit to the hosts, really, all of whom do a good job.

* And where would he go? FOX? I don't know if you walk away from a guaranteed $45 million and The Tonight Show for a gamble on another network that couldn't even guarantee every market without a fight. I know I wouldn't.