Bye Bye Leno: Is the “Late Night at 10” Science Experiment Finally Over?

The Wrap, along with CBS News and Fox Business, have picked up on a report from a site called FTLive.com that NBC is going to cancel the Jay Leno experiment. On Monday of this week, NBC decided to order up to 18 pilots for the upcoming season, prompting BNET to speculate that this huge order is an attempt to fill Leno’s timeslots, which certainly looks suspicious to me.

NBC, in an attempt to deny the rumor, has dropped this statement:

Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. As we have said all along, Jay’s show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network. It has, however, presented some issues for our affiliates. Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve the performance.

Err, yeah, so they’re kind of denying the rumor, but honestly, I wouldn’t consider that a very encouraging statement.  Remember the Boston affiliate that tried to pass on Leno’s show back in April, until NBC beat them into submission by threatening to strip their affiliation? Yeah, I do. Back then, NBC could scare their affiliates quiet, but after less than a year of this ill-begotten venture, it seems like their persuasive powers have faded a bit. In all likelihood, the affiliates have seen their ad revenues drop because of the show’s sad ratings, and they’re calling for blood. NBC will have to listen this time, though I don’t know what they could do to “improve performance” other than dropping the show off the schedule.

I consider this to be a welcome bit of schadenfreude, and it seems like the Twitterverse does as well. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Jay Leno; I’ve never really watched ANY late night shows (they’re just not my thing) but he does seem like a nice guy. Instead, my joy comes from watching NBC continue to self-destruct. In the last few years, they’ve pushed mostly derivative dreck down our throats, and the few bold and challenging shows they premiered (hey Kings and Southland) were underpromoted after their first episodes, unceremoniously yanked off the air a few weeks before premiering a second season, or consigned to a saturday night death slot. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that NBC thought their viewing audience would buy what they were trying to sell. Even from the very beginning, moving Leno to 10 PM came across as a transparently cynical, lame-ass, cheap, penny-pinching ploy. They appeared less interested in keeping him around than they were in saving a couple of bucks. It was a dumb idea, born from either cheapness or desperation, and now, as everyone seemed to predict, it’s about to blow up in their faces.

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Southland Returns: Welcome Back Press Conference

image courtesy of TNT

One week from today, Southland will return to the air, commercial-free, on TNT. Southland was probably my favorite show to premiere last year, and I will never forgive NBC for unceremoniously canning it. Who cares about Jay Leno at ten!? Anyway, TNT was smart enough to pick up this great show and will be reairing it from the first episode on January 12. The new, unaired episodes will begin March 2nd.

Last month, TNT held a press conference with Ann Biderman, Chris Chulack, and members of the cast. Have a look below for answers to questions ranging from how the Southland team reacted to the cancellation and the subsequent TNT pickup, to Southland‘s philosophy on depicting romantic relationships in their character’s lives. (And bear with us; with so many people on the call, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a voice!)

And remember to tune in to Southland on Tuesday, January 12 at 10:00pm on TNT; a strong showing could help promise a new order of epsiodes.

***

TV America:  Hi, yeah, I’d like to direct this towards Ann particularly. First of all I want to make sure because John Wells was always saying that he’s – is John still with the show, is he actually with the show or not?

Ann Biderman: Absolutely.

TV America:  Okay, I just wanted to make sure of that. Anyway Ann, they had talked about even back when it was NBC about the second season being different from the first.  That it would be more – less serialized, that there would be fewer story lines where he pulls it tighter together and concentrate on fewer characters, basically the characters that we see here in the front row.

Is that true once we start to see the new shows for this second season, how will they be different from the first season?

Ann Biderman: You know you’ve asked a couple of questions in there so I’m going to try to answer all of them. You know we’re always trying to find a balance between the serialization and the kind of stand alone episodes that feel like little exciting movies.

You know and it’s – for instance last year I think you know we introduced the (Janilla) character in episode one but you know in the final episode where Regina is saving their lives, I don’t think that would have the same impact if it wasn’t somehow serialized.

So you’re always trying to find a really, really good balance. And Chris can address this as well.

Chris Chulack: Well I was just going to say on that entity, but everybody forgets that our pickup for last year was for six episodes and we knew that that was the – all we were going to do.

So that impacted the stories we were telling because we knew we only had the pilot plus six, this year we thought we had at least 13.

And so just by the number of episodes, by nature it was going to be a little different in the story telling. So let’s not forget that.

Ann Biderman: But in general you know you’re always trying to find that balance. You know you want the characters to deepen and have complicated lives.

And you know be complicated and interesting characters so there are elements of serialization that work and at the same time you want people, if they drop in to episode 6 that they’re going to be able to follow it and be thrilled a bit.

So you’re always trying to find that balance I think.

TV America:  If you’re trying to find the balance and the second season might be at least slightly less serialized, that’s the feeling I get because it’s over a longer time, yeah.

Ann Biderman: I mean sure, I think it is slightly less serialized. I think that’s an accurate answer.

TV America:  Okay, thank you.

***

[Read more after the jump!]

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Jay Leno premieres tonight–and I’m not watching.

That’s right. The new PRIMETIME interview show starts tonight: Jay Leno’s new show on NBC. What is it called, anyway? The Jay Leno Show?

Anyway, in case you missed the headline, I’ll not be watching. I just have a lot of better things to do: wash my hair, windex the mirrors, cut the grass with scissors, stare at a wall, etc.

And yes, Leno clearly lucked out by booking Kanye West long before he screwed over poor Taylor Swift. Yes, that’s right. Kanye will be on the show tonight. Who knows what he will say (an entire writers’ room is probably filled with pencil scratching to decide what Leno will ask and what jokes he’ll say), but despite my curiosity, I’m not watching.

Ignoring the joke above, I really have no interest in seeing Jay Leno. I mean, I thought he was leaving The Tonight Show for a reason, but the NBC seemed to have backtracked and decided to give him another show. And it’s every night at 10:00.

There’s so much better programming than Leno on at 10:00 during the week! Why not just give him Saturday and call it a day! We could have Kings, for goodness sake.

I just feel like this is a big mistake on NBC’s part. I mean, this is taking five hours of TV away from them. They’ve basically structured their schedule so they’re like FOX or The CW, except that those stations usually have the news right after their programming.

And it’s actually disappointing. I realize the NBC is kinda poor right now (Ooh, I have an idea for that! Kill of half the cast of Heroes! It’ll help the show and the network!), but it’s actually been pretty impressive this summer. I’ve been quite pleased with Merlin, and even though it’s not an NBC original, it’s quality programming that I wanted to check out week to week. NBC can do it; they just…won’t?

But how long can they really keep a primetime interview show going? I mean, Leno was moving on from The Tonight Show. How long would he want this? And how long do we? Honestly, I don’t think it’ll go past the year–and I only think it will go that far because he’s probably got a contract with a big pricetag.

And they’re clearly trying to make it successful. They’ve got some big guests this week (you can see them here), so maybe it will grab some attention.

But for me, it just isn’t my style. I want primetime to be real shows. (I’m still annoyed that reality TV still gets in the way.) I mean, he might make for some good background noise, but as for tonight, I think I’ll watch the premiere of One Tree Hill…and then take down all my curtains and hand wash them with a toothbrush.

NBC: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Well, NBC has announced it’s upcoming new shows, as well as some shows that will be picked up. And to be honest, I can’t say I’m over the moon about any of them. Well, maybe one.

What’s original here? NBC seemed to be one of the networks we’re more curious about, what with ER‘s  good-bye and their newest pitch to have Leno have a 10:00 daily talk show. And yes, that Leno plan is still happening.

And while I have mixed feelins about Leno’s show (I think it’s a terrible idea, though at least it will be a backup to reruns at 10:00 on other networks), that now limits NBC to two hours of programming. So what do we have?

Well, in place of ER, we’ve now got two new hospital dramas, one of which has Michelle Trachtenberg as a nurse–something I doubt very heavily. Sorry, Michelle fans, but somehow that just seems odd to me. Can she play an adult? I mean, I saw her relatively try in The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, and it was painful.

We’ve also got Day One, which apparently has someone from Heroes involved (let’s hope season 1) and involves people reacting after a global disaster. Didn’t we do this a few years ago and call it Jericho? The frontrunner of that show is Julia Gonzalo, the most annoying cast member of the lost Eli Stone.

And then what? Parenthood? Oh dear, Maura Tierney, is there no hope left? At least Monica Potter’s finding work after Trust Me was canceled.

But where, oh, where are the original premises? I’m most looking forward to Community, mainly because it stars Joel McHale of The Soup, but from what I’ve read on other blogs, people are less enthused because it’s “just another multi-camera comedy.” I’ll take that any day over another Parks and Recreation, which, by the way, has been renewed.

Speaking of renewals, what about the ones we’re really wondering about? No news on Chuck, and contrary to various reports this weekend, it looks like Medium hasn’t yet been decided on yet, either. From what I can tell, you’ll have to wait until May 19, when they announce the fall schedule.

These are two very popular series. I’m still surprised they’re being debated.

Meanwhile, we can expect the return of Heroes, The Office, 30 Rock, reality TV, and at least one Law & Order series.

What else is missing? My Name Is Earl. Again, very surprised.

I should mention that all of these might not be fall shows–some may be winter or “event”–but I think there are some surprises and disappointments here. With such original series as Chuck and, of course, Kings, we’re stuck with the old and the done.

So here’s what I suggest. If you don’t like what you see, and you’re waiting for your favorite NBC show to appear, you better get moving. Write to NBC, post blogs, do what you must. You’re running out of time, and we’re running out of quality.

Will Boston lose NBC?

Well, probably not. But it doesn’t look like NBC and Boston are getting along recently.

I just saw in a post from E! that Boston’s NBC affiliate is refusing to show Jay Leno’s new show come September. You know, the one that will be shown every weekday at a new 10:00 timeslot.

Boston’s affiliate is claiming that they don’t think Leno’s new show will be successful, so instead of losing people at 10:00–therefore losing the possibility of an 11:00 news audience–they’re planning on showing their news broadcasts in the place of Leno’s show.

NBC says this is against their contract and are therefore willing to pull NBC from that affiliate.

So wow. Looks like it could be bad. NBC is claiming they have other stations in the Boston area that can show their programming, so supposedly, it looks like Boston won’t lose NBC. Of course, I’m a skeptic and wonder whether that might just be NBC trying to bother the affiliate in question–an empty threat, so to speak.

Personally, I think Leno’s new show is going to be a failure, too. I know that NBC is close to out of money and that they’re trying to reduce programming, but I think a 10:00 talk show isn’t what people are looking for. They’d probably have better luck with an hour of syndicated ER reruns. I mean, there were 15 season. That makes a lot of television.

I think in the end, it will all work out with Boston and NBC holding hands awkwardly like two exes forced to walk down the aisle in a wedding party, but it is an interesting story. And I do think it’s something to consider: Will advertisers and affiliates really like the Leno change? I mean, why even take him away from one show, just to give him another earlier?

He’s kinda like the Early Bird Special for latenight. What a compliment.

Are the networks devoid of smart?

It’s not really a new question. In fact, people have asked it a lot. And in the void of new episodes of TV, I was thinking about it.

I remember when The Sopranos started on HBO. Now, I’ve never had HBO, so I never saw this series or Sex and the City until they were syndicated many years later. So it would bug the crap out of me to watch the Emmys or the Golden Globes and find all the awards going to shows I’ve never seen. And it still happens with HBO series and Showtime, too!

But now it’s spread a little further. If you look at the most recent list of Golden Globe nominees, you’ll see that the four basic networks–ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX–aren’t nearly as represented as HBO, Showtime, and even TNT.

And why is that the case? Well, it seems to me that the four basic networks just don’t really have the time or money to spend on “smart” TV.

But let’s backtrack. What do I mean by “smart”? Well, I don’t mean “creative,” though there have been a number of cancellations for creative shows. I never watched Pushing Daisies, but you can’t disagree that it had a creative background and premise. Eli Stone, too. So it’s not necessarily creativity that I’m looking at.

Take a look at Studio 60. It was a very “smart” show. You really had to tune in and pay attention to really enjoy the show because there were a lot of storylines that fell below an episode’s plot–like Danny’s past addictions or Tom’s brother at war. It provoked thought.

Now, we take a look at shows like 90210 and The Office, which are basically spin-off/remakes of older, fresher favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Office, but we’ve moved away from subtle humor in past seasons, and we’re now to the slapstick variety and cardboard characters.

And yes, there are exceptions. Lost is clearly a smart concept, though again, I haven’t seen it (sorry, I missed the first season and never caught up). But other shows have tried to keep mysteries throughout a series and they’ve fallen flat with few viewers: Hidden Palms and Reunion are just two.

Other shows have brought about the smart in the viewers; Numb3rs is  a huge example, where the show is actually bringing about mathematical ideas into a show that would otherwise be just a basic crime show.

But overall, there seems to be a lack of smart. When The West Wing, ER, and Gilmore Girls started, there were random quips and stronger storylines. However, people followed them. I know it seems odd that I included Gilmore Girls in there, but honestly, the fast-talking pop-culture basis really carried a smart feel–a feel that really declined in later seasons.

So what’s bringing this about? I’m afraid to say it (though I already have), but time and money. But whose?

Without viewers, shows can’t last. So if viewers won’t give a show like Studio 60 a chance because they don’t want to put that much attention to an hour-long program, then what can the networks really do? But then again, Pushing Daisies did have viewers. So what happened there?

Clearly, some of the fault lies in the networks. How long is long enough to decide? Four episodes (Drive)? Nine episodes (Reunion)? Fourteen (Firefly)? Twenty-five (Tru Calling)?

[Ok, I wasn’t trying to only pick FOX shows there, but hey, look what happened. You get a prize if you can figure out what else all of those shows have in common.]

And you have to admit, the networks do have more problems with money. Unlike HBO, they don’t have a subscription basis, which means they can’t put all their money into one show. Cable series have had this advantage. They have much tighter budgets, and if something doesn’t make money AND QUICK, it can’t be on TV.

So true, they are at a disadvantage, but why do they have to go to reality TV before putting together something quality? Raising the Bar could have easily been shown on any network other than TNT, but it wasn’t. Possibly The Closer, too. Instead, we have too many competition shows and game shows–and Jay Leno’s getting his own nightly talk show at 10:00 pm!

What’s disappointing is that now I watch TV, and I’m bored. I want the smart back. I’d like to know that our basic networks aren’t free due to bad programming.

But anyway, what do you think? Viewers’ faults for not watching? Networks for not giving shows a chance? Or cable for being bullies? All opinions welcome.