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Jay Leno is the future of TV... even if he fails

by Jonathan Toomey, posted Sep 3rd 2009 2:29PM

Jay LenoIn the latest issue of Time (hits newsstands tomorrow) the mag's resident critic James Poniewozik has a great article on the upcoming prime-time premiere of The Jay Leno Show. Poniewozik makes the argument (an ubiquitous one at this point) that as a result of Leno's move to 10 p.m., your TV is shrinking.

As he puts it, in a TV viewing world where the attention span of potential eyeballs is so segmented because of cable, DVRs, and Hulu, NBC is throwing all their eggs in one basket with "America's most successful purveyor of vanilla."

However, a lot of people really like vanilla. Good sign? Hard to say.

Highlights and a look the issue's cover after the jump.

I've got mixed feelings about Leno's new show. Part of me wants to see it fail because it's cutting back on the number of dramas on the air and that in turn is killing jobs - never a good thing. However, if the show takes off, it could lead to a renaissance in scripted programming. With less time slots, shows will have to be that much better to make the cut.

What bothers me is something that Poniewozik points out (and I never thought of): how NBC plans to gauge Leno's success. Not only is the show dirt cheap to produce (when compared to a drama), but ratings wise, if it pulls in 5 million viewers per night (by comparison, CSI: Miami averaged 14.22 million last season), NBC will be giddy. For argument's sake that essentially means close to no one can watch the show and NBC will smile.

That's scary. Especially if other networks follow suit. Why bother making anything worth watching if the bar for success is so low? Doesn't matter when the profit margin is the only concern. As a TV fan, the most terrifying quote came from Rick Ludwin, an exec at NBC: "We're not the National Endowment for the Arts. This is a business." Eeek. I fully understand that mentality but is Leno at 10 the right business model? Certainly not for all the networks... I hope.

However, as Poniewozik puts it, whether he fails or succeeds, Leno is the future:
Jay Leno on the cover of TIME magazine
The other problem is how this'll affect Conan. The two shows are fighting for guests and the potential looms for both to plummet because of Leno. This could bury NBC. The other factor is do people even want this at 10 PM? NBC is pushing the country's desire for comedy in Leno's ad campaigns, but another point that Poniewozik makes is what will work at 10? What works at 12:30 doesn't work at 11:30 and so on.

If I were Leno, I'd feel insulted. He's been tasked not with winning (although I'm sure it's a personal goal of his) but rather with just getting by. As a future, I wouldn't expect anybody to be happy about that. Settling for mediocrity that just barely makes the grade is kind of a lousy outlook, even if it does make sure the checkbook is balanced. We should be looking ahead to find new things that work and instead, NBC is remaking "a 17-year-old version of a half-century-old franchise."

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I like you guys. You seem to be well informed, and all of your points are well communicated... I like you.

September 04 2009 at 4:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have no intention of watching Leno's show. And they've already blatantly said they're going to declare the show a success based on whatever set of numbers looks most favourable to them.

With that out of the way, I've gotta say that one of the things Poniewosik said that worries you is something I've been advocating for a while. Namely, that the Networks need to get off their high horse and be happy about pulling in numbers Cable would consider a success instead of using them as cause for cancellation.

Frankly, as far as most people are concerned, they're just another set of channels. They need to accept that and move on.

September 04 2009 at 12:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike MacDonald

Jonathan -- I'm not sure what planet you live on, but if you include cable and pay TV there are just as many good quality TV shows out there as there ever has been. Of course, this is subjective, maybe you think "The Brady Bunch" or CHIPS was quality TV. As for the number of writers,actors, etc. -- You really don't believe there are fewer working today than there were when there were only three networks, do you??? There were some good shows in the past, but there was also a lot of crap, just like there is now. If you really want to be honest with yourself -- count all the shows you consider good now -- then go back 5 -- 10 -- 15 -- 20 --25 -- and 30 years. Let us know in what year you find the most number of quality shows -- Good hunting -- Mike

September 03 2009 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe networks need to stop hoping for a golden goose and squeezing it to death. TV is like our diet: portions too large. If one is good, a dozen must be better; why just have one Law & Order for decades when you can have episodes every single night?
I'm beginning to appreciate the British TV sensibility. 6 to 13 episodes a year of a really good drama -- and then, maybe even not EVERY year. Hey, it seemed to work really well doing 5 episodes of Torchwood this year, and I don't see any calls for Torchwood: Las Vegas and Torchwood: Miami to fill out the schedule.
Leno, 5 nights a week at 11:30 was already too much and I had no interest in watching him then. 5 nights a week at 10? Good lord, no. At least with that drivel at 11:30, we had the POSSIBILITY of decent programming at 10 (the first two hours of primetime having long ago been abandoned to reality crap).

September 03 2009 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dw. Dunphy

Network dramas are no more rewarding than whatever mayonnaise Leno provides. We have a wash of shows trying to compete with cable TV, trying to be lurid and sensationalistic, yet skirting just enough to survive of free broadcasting and sponsor models. What they are, after all, are bleached versions of those cable shows which, excepting one or two, aren't that great either. Critics call this a new golden age of television. If this is gold, they can have it all to their misinformed selves.

But let's be honest and paraphrase Warren Zevon - all TV drama is really is a parade of Lawyers, Cops & Doctors. The s**t has hit the fan.

September 03 2009 at 5:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We get the quality of television that we deserve.

September 03 2009 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"However, if the show takes off, it could lead to a renaissance in scripted programming. With less time slots, shows will have to be that much better to make the cut."

Um, i think that the way TV works is that with fewer time slots there will be less risk taking and more reliance on "tried and true" formulas. That's just how it is.

September 03 2009 at 2:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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