Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Jay Leno Show

Hill Street Blues. St. Elsewhere. Saturday Night Live. Late Night with David Letterman. The Cosby Show. Family Ties. Cheers. L.A. Law, Law & Order. Friends. ER. Seinfeld. The West Wing. Remember when NBC created ground-breaking television? Remember "Must See TV"? What happened to that network?

For a decade or more, shows on NBC were the water cooler shows - you had to watch them (and wanted to) or you would miss out on the conversation the next day. Hill Street Blues brought a gritty reality to police dramas, which was applied to great effect to St. Elsewhere. The Cosby Show brought a black, middle-class family to America's living rooms. Law & Order created the procedural. Seinfeld taught us that even nothing could be funny if done right.

The last show on that list was started in 1999. While Law & Order (and its many iterations) continue to air, ER finally petered out last season, a shell of its former self. Shows such as Heroes and Studio 60 on Sunset Drive started with great fanfare, but never fulfilled their initial promise. The network was completely unable to find a replacement for Seinfeld or Friends, offering a tepid Joey to audiences used to more sophisticated humor.

So what happened? Clearly, NBC was not prepared for the onslaught of reality television (Survivor finally destroyed the "Must-See TV" hegemony of NBC's comedies) or the expanding of cable programming. And there seemed to be a lack of original thinking on the parts of executives. Have you seen Trauma or Mercy? Sadly, I have (long story), and really, don't waste your time. You've seen them before.

The only programming decision the network made recently that was noteworthy was the decision to keep Jay Leno, who had "retired" from The Tonight Show, and create a new show for him. The Jay Leno Show airs five days per week, starting at 9:00 P.M. Central time. Essentially, NBC gave up five hours of prime time programming to a talk show.

The critics gnashed their teeth and bemoaned the death of scripted television as we know it. NBC's decision to keep Jay Leno instead of developing "real" television just proves how short of originality the network is. What were they thinking?

Well, first of all, I think that this is not the bell tolling on scripted television. USA and TNT have been developing all kinds of new scripted television in the past few years. So, let's quit this whole "end of TV as we know it" talk.

I've not watched a minute of The Jay Leno Show, just as I never watched The Tonight Show. I don't plan to. He's no Jon Stewart. But I don't think that NBC has made a major mistake by choosing to air this show five nights a week. I think it was a well considered business decision by executives who had no new ideas in their pocket. Leno didn't really want to retire, and NBC was afraid that Leno might go to a competing network. Plus, The Jay Leno Show is comparatively cheap to produce. Think about it - Leno's the only one making real money at this, unlike dramas and comedies in which a number of people command higher salaries. This means that even lower ratings equals a profit. A win-win in their book. And what do I care? There's only one NBC show that I watch anyway - Chuck, and it ain't on right now.

The only real objection I have to the network's decision to fill the 9:00 hour with Leno is that Law & Order: SVU airs at 8:00. There is no way that this show should be shown so early - it's themes and images are just too adult for earlier. Perhaps they could have prevented this by either airing The Jay Leno Show at 7:00 P.M. Central time (after all, isn't Leno family friendly?) or airing SVU on Saturday or Sunday night.

So, quit the bitching and whining, and turn the channel to a show you do want to watch. Is that so hard?


  1. I think something you have to consider aside from the death of scripted television angle is the fact that Jay Leno on NBC is one of the most painfully unfunny creations in the history of comedy. But I've heard that his live stand-up is really good, unlike anything you'd see on the show.

    I'm a little troubled that the Jay Leno Cornball Hour is what passes for entertainment five nights a week.

  2. Oh, Brian, there is so much out there that passes for entertainment that troubles me. The list would be terribly long. Perhaps we should have a post on that. Any other suggestions?