Multi-talented Colbert is right man for the job

April 10, 2014
Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of CBS's "Late Show" next year.

Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of CBS’s “Late Show” next year.


It takes more than just stand-up comedy talent to qualify as a late-night host these days.

That’s the lesson of the announcement today that Stephen Colbert has been anointed David Letterman’s successor as host of “Late Show” on CBS.  With Letterman announcing just last week his intention to retire next year, CBS moved quickly to sign Colbert to a five-year contract — representing an extraordinary amount of faith in Colbert’s potential for not only maintaining CBS’s position in the late-night competition at 11:35, but also improving it.

For that role, Colbert, 49, emerges as the best man for the job.  Why?  Because he is multi-talented, which is suddenly a requirement for hosting a late-night show — a trend driven mainly by Jimmy Fallon.

Colbert might not possess Fallon’s talent for mimicry and celebrity impressions, but Colbert is an accomplished professional in all the other aspects of show business — particularly singing, dancing and acting.  He’s a shrewd showman who writes best-selling books, created a highly profitable show (“The Colbert Report”) built around a fictional character he developed and plays personally, and seems to create excitement and draw crowds wherever he goes.

With his abundance of theatrical talent (he’s formally trained in all the basics, from Northwestern), Colbert is more than a match for the multifaceted Fallon where it now counts the most — in the production of comedy-performance bits so arresting that they stand up to multiple viewings on video and social-media Web sites in the hours and days after they air for the first time on TV.

This is where Colbert’s “Late Show” and Fallon’s “Tonight Show” will battle it out most.  As for the time period’s other competitor, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” CBS’s hiring of Colbert gives Kimmel an opportunity to stand out from the others.  As Kimmel has long emphasized, he is more a “broadcaster” than a “comedian” — a recognition that he possesses none of  the basic performing skills of his competitors.  Still, his bits are wildly creative and they play well (and often better than Fallon’s) in the all-important video after-markets.

Two more things on this hiring of Colbert:

1) Some are concerned that Colbert won’t be able to make the transition from the “Stephen Colbert” character he plays on Comedy Central to the real Colbert.  That happens to be a non-issue.  He’ll do fine as the “real” guy behind the “Late Show” desk.

2) What about Conan? Thank you to all of the hundreds of you who visited TVHowl over the past week to read my post from a year ago suggesting that Conan O’Brien would be a great choice to replace Letterman when the time comes for Letterman to call it a day.  Alas — it is not to be.  The Conan story is an interesting one: There was a time when he really was the late-night heir-apparent — if not “The Tonight Show” (we all know what happened there) then the “Letterman” show.  Unfortunately, if this was still an ambition of Conan’s, to break into the network fray at 11:35 p.m., then this once-every-20-years generational shift in late-night TV seems to have passed him by.

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An aging generation mourns loss of Jay, Dave

April 4, 2014
END OF AN ERA: For millions of us, late-night television will always be represented by these two -- David Letterman and Jay Leno (inset) who battled it out for 20 years.  Photos: NBC, CBS

END OF AN ERA: For millions of us, late-night television will always be represented by these two — David Letterman and Jay Leno (inset) — who battled it out for 20 years. Photos: NBC, CBS


What about us?

We are the ones who have lost our late-night TV.

We are the group for whom the Golden Age of late-night television is not necessarily represented by Johnny Carson (though we may have watched him in his final years).  And we are the ones who don’t feel much warmth for the new hyper-active generation of late-night hosts — the Jimmys and the rest of them.

We are the habitual watchers of late-night TV for whom the 20-year reign of David Letterman and Jay Leno will always represent the heart and soul of this most-intimate of TV time periods.  And now, that era — when, for the most part, there were only two stars in late-night who anybody cared about — is over.

The phrase “end of an era” is a cliche I usually try and avoid using, but when Letterman announced Thursday night that he’s packing it in, it felt sincerely like an era was coming to a close.


The rights and wrongs of Fallon’s debut

Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight’

Who will replace Letterman? Enter Conan

It’s an aspect of Letterman’s retirement announcement that’s being largely neglected in much of the commentary you might be reading today that analyzes the late-night landscape as Letterman prepares to leave: It’s the end of the Leno-Letterman era — an era as distinct and important to the history of television as the Carson era was in its time, and the current multi-splintered era of late-night television is now.

It was the era of “The Two.”  It began on  August 30, 1993 — the day David Letterman’s new “Late Show” debuted at 11:30 on CBS.  Jay Leno had already been hosting “The Tonight Show” on NBC since May 1992, when he took over for Carson.

From that August day in 1993 until Jan. 8, 2013 — the day ABC shifted “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to the 11:35 p.m. time period — Jay and Dave, for all intents and purposes, had the time period to themselves.  And for millions of us, toggling between the two of them between 11:35 p.m. and 12:35 a.m. while preparing to go to sleep became a nightly habit for the better part of 20 years.

And now, with Leno gone since February and Letterman set to say farewell next year, late-night television will officially pass into its new and present era — the one most of the commentators are writing about today: The era of the two Jimmys, Conan, Arsenio, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler and the rest.

The problem for me and for millions like me: The present era of late-night TV holds much less allure for us.  We can’t seem to warm to the relentless comedy capers of Fallon, Kimmel and the rest — as they strive more for views on YouTube than for ratings on their shows.  With this new generation of late-night hosts, the shows are more cacophonous, if not obnoxious.

Hey, I admit it: I’m 54, and the hijinks of younger people are less and less interesting or entertaining to me as I grow older.  To anyone who is not necessarily turned off by the current generation of late-night stars, I say: Enjoy them.

But for me and, I suspect, millions like me, our habitual watching of late-night television is slowly coming to an end, right along with the closing of the Letterman-Leno era.

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‘The Sopranos’ is still the Godfather of them all

March 20, 2014
HBO's reairing of "The Sopranos" (starring James Gandolfini) these last few months (or longer) has been a wonder to behold. The run concludes with the series finale, titled "Made in America," on April 1. (Photo: HBO)

HBO’s re-airing of “The Sopranos” (starring James Gandolfini) these last few months (or longer) has been a wonder to behold. The run concludes with the series finale, titled “Made in America,” on April 1. (Photo: HBO)


It has been an enlightening experience to revisit “The Sopranos” these last few months on HBO.

This revered series, which ran from 1999 to 2007, has been running nightly (mostly at 8 p.m.) on the HBO “Signature” channel (which here in New York appears on Ch. 203 on Time Warner Cable).  The show has been running for months and possibly longer — long enough to have cycled through the entire series at least once already.  And now, the current cycle is almost at an end.

This current run has nine episodes to go until HBO finally gives it a rest.  The fabled series finale — titled “Made in America” — with its controversial freeze-frame ending, airs Tuesday, April 1, after which HBO will replace it with a similar, celebratory re-airing of “Deadwood,” which ran originally from 2004 to 2006.

What more can anyone say about “The Sopranos”?  HBO’s revival of the series has become a nightly addiction in our household.  And the news is good: This is a series that more than holds up despite its advancing age (15 years — can you believe it? — since its premiere).

The quality of this production still astonishes — from the writing to the cinematography to the acting.  Watching these episodes again — after having not laid eyes on the show for almost seven years — has me wondering why my own record of reviews and columns about “The Sopranos” was so checkered (see below).  Oh, well — that’s showbiz!

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How checkered?  I went back and assessed my entire output of “Sopranos” stories, reviews and columns from 1999 to 2007 (about 80, all told) and wrote about my see-sawing opinions in my new (hopefully) forthcoming book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television.”  And now, presented here as a TV Howl bonus, is the entire “Sopranos” section from the book.  Analyze this:

No single show received more coverage in the New York Post during its run than “The Sopranos.”  I personally wrote close to 80 bylined columns, reviews and stories about this HBO series between September 1999 and July 2007.

The editors of the Post had decided that this show was of keen interest to the paper’s readership, and they were probably correct about that.  The show, about a mafia chieftain in northern New Jersey who struggled to balance his responsibilities for his mob “family” and his real family while also undergoing psychotherapy, would resonate with viewers and Post readers throughout the New York area.

“They wuz robbed!” read the headline on my first story about “The Sopranos” published on Sept. 14, 1999.  The story was a morning-after account of the Emmy Awards, where “The Sopranos” won “only” four awards out of 16 nominations for its first season.  Among the awards the show won was a Best Actress Emmy for female lead Edie Falco.

Nevertheless, I had been instructed by my editors to write a column complaining that the show “wuz” robbed, so that is what I did.   “ ‘The Sopranos’ is the hottest, most talked-about drama series in years,” I wrote in this column.  “When you try to pinpoint the reasons why it’s so appealing, you wind up covering all the bases – casting, scriptwriting, acting photography, music, you name it.  ‘The Sopranos’ deserved to win in all the categories in which it was nominated and it deserved to be nominated in a lot more categories.”

Reading this column today, it rings hollow.  I doubt that I sincerely felt “The Sopranos” “deserved” statuettes in every category in which it had been nominated.  Moreover, the column has the feel of something written in a hurry, without the benefit of revision time.  And indeed, it was written under severe time constraints, on deadline on Emmy night, probably in the hour between 11 p.m. and midnight.

My next column on “The Sopranos” was more to the point.  As the second season got under way, I was already questioning the show’s quality.  “Just four episodes into its second season, ‘The Sopranos’ is suffering from a hype hangover,” I wrote in February 2000.  “Thanks to all the parties, awards and subway posters, the show’s fans are now subjecting ‘The Sopranos’ to unrelenting, perhaps unreasonable scrutiny.  They’re scratching their heads over the direction ‘The Sopranos’ has taken so far in season two.”

This column happens to be a head-scratcher in its own right.  The “scrutiny” being applied by “the show’s fans” was really my own personal scrutiny.  For some reason, though, I laid it off on “the show’s fans” instead of taking ownership of these doubts myself.

Despite these misgivings about Season Two, by the time the Emmys rolled around the following September, I was reporting on yet another “Sopranos” “robbery.”

“Hollywood robbed the mob,” read the headline on this summation, which complained about the show winning only one award – a Best Actor award for the star of the show, James Gandolfini – out of 18 nominations.  “And the severity of the crime can’t be softened by the one measly Emmy that the TV Academy gave to James Gandolfini, who richly deserved it,” I wrote.

“ ‘The Sopranos’ should have been buried under a whole pile of Emmy statuettes last night,” I griped.  “But instead, the greatest TV drama series of last season or any season lost to ‘The West Wing’ – an ordinary formulaic network drama that’s nothing more than ‘L.A. Law’ in the White House.  What a crock!”

This column too was evidently written under duress – not only from deadline constraints but also from the desires of the Post’s editors that we continue to side with “The Sopranos” in stories such as this one.  One reason I can detect now that it was a column written carelessly and in a hurry: In no previous column had I ever indicated that I thought “The West Wing” was formulaic.  In fact, I had praised it often over the years.  For that matter, I thought highly of “L.A. Law” too.

As the years went by, the Post’s interest in “The Sopranos” only grew.  I came to write column after column speculating on future plot points, even though scant evidence existed to support my theses.  I speculated on who would get whacked next, rarely predicting the future accurately.  As far back as March 2001, I was speculating on whether Tony Soprano himself would soon be whacked, thus ending the series – though the show continued until June 2007.

In August and September 2001, I reported on the protests of Italian-Americans who disliked the show’s depiction of New Jersey gangsters with Italian surnames.  One such group sued HBO and the producers of “The Sopranos” for defamation.  A Chicago judge threw out the case on Sept. 19.

For another story, I interviewed psychologists and marriage specialists to get their viewpoints on the troubled marriage of Tony and Carmela.  Probably because “The Sopranos” was at least partly about a patient and his therapist, New York’s community of psychoanalysts were surprisingly well-versed in this series.  “He keeps the most disturbing part of his life secret,” one psychologist (of the four I interviewed one afternoon) observed about Tony.

“If he wants to look at the things that are underlying his anxiety attacks, he has to be in a place where he can be honest, but of course his code of silence doesn’t allow for more direct conversations,” said another.

In a preview of the third-season finale published in May 2001 a few days before the episode aired, I described “The Sopranos” as “the richest drama series on television.”

A few days later, though, after the finale was broadcast, I expressed my deep disappointment in the episode.  “In the end, the thing that was most dissatisfying was the way last night’s finale left you with more questions than answers,” I complained.

I was apparently unhappy with the way the episode left several of the show’s many storylines unresolved.  “Ending a season with unresolved plotlines is a device that’s overused on network television and unworthy of a show as artful as ‘The Sopranos’,” I lectured.

Despite my disappointment, I was back to praising “The Sopranos” at the onset of Season Four in September 2002, when I described the show as “a rare TV series which leaves us wanting more with each passing season.”

This new era of good feeling lasted for at least a few episodes into the new season, including one episode that was being derided by some of the show’s fans.  It was an episode in which the mobsters became embroiled in a controversy over the correct way to commemorate Columbus Day.

“A lot of loose talk is going around that this week’s ‘Sopranos’ episode wasn’t up to the show’s usual standards,” I wrote in a column published on Oct. 3, 2002.  “And I just can’t believe my ears.  I loved every minute of it, even the stuff about Columbus Day – which apparently makes me unique since everyone else is moaning that the battle between the Italian- and Native-Americans of Newark over the meaning of the holiday seemed out of sync. …

“The complainers assert that real-life mobsters wouldn’t be caught dead wringing their hands over the efforts of a bunch of Native-American activists to disrupt a Columbus Day parade.  In response to which, I have to ask: How do you know what mobsters talk about?

“With only 13 ‘Sopranos’ episodes coming along every few years, this is a series that should be savored, not scorned,” I scolded.  “OK, crybabies?”

Just two weeks later, though, I was complaining that the show had become “boring.”

“It’s over,” I wrote, somewhat over-dramatically in retrospect.  “I realized it the moment I reached for the newspaper Sunday night during ‘The Sopranos.’  I never thought it would come to this, but ‘The Sopranos’ was so boring, I could read the paper during the show and not miss a thing. …

“What’s needed to revive the show,” I advised, “is for someone to get whacked – fast, and as violently as possible.”

By the time Season Four was nearing its end in December, my disappointment had apparently become so deep that I found nothing wrong with pronouncing the show dead.  “If you are among the dwindling number of ‘Sopranos’ fans who still think the show is worth wasting an hour of your time every week, then it’s time you face the truth,” I lectured.  “This series, which once seemed so infallible, has crashed and burned.

Its miserable fourth season concludes tonight …”

To add insult to injury, at year’s end I chose “The Sopranos” as the worst TV show of the year.

“If you want to know what real disappointment feels like, talk to a ‘Sopranos’ fan,” I wrote, though I hadn’t talked to any “Sopranos” fans about the show at all.  “The show, to which they are intensely loyal, returned for its fourth season after an absence of nearly a year-and-a-half and collapsed – spectacularly.  Once the most riveting and discomfiting series on TV, ‘The Sopranos’ emerged from its ill-considered sabbatical as an aimless, yawn-inducing soap opera.”

The following year – 2003 – was characterized by a protracted contract battle stemming mainly from James Gandolfini’s demands for more money.  The long standoff delayed production, and Season Five of “The Sopranos” didn’t premiere until March 2004.

And once again, I found myself revising my opinion of the show.  “Old gangsters have infused ‘The Sopranos’ with new blood, and the result appears to be a rejuvenated series,” I wrote on Feb. 11, 2004, based on a handful of episodes HBO provided for preview.  “That’s the cautious conclusion reached after viewing the first four episodes of the mob series’ long-awaited fifth season.”

I apparently became so satisfied with the episodes I was watching during this fifth season of “The Sopranos” that I was moved to declare an end to my nitpicking columns in a column published on May 9.  “No other show on TV gets picked apart week after week quite like ‘The Sopranos’,” I noted in the column’s lead sentence.  “I should know [because] I’ve done my share of the picking.

“Recently, though, while picking apart an early episode in the current fifth season of ‘The Sopranos,’ I had an epiphany – nitpicking is no fun …”

This moratorium lasted nine days.

“Wake me when it’s over,” read the lead sentence of a column published on May 18 – a recap of the episode seen two days earlier in which Tony Soprano fell asleep in a hotel room in the company of a prostitute and then had a wide-ranging dream that sucked up 23 minutes of the episode’s 50-minute running time.

In the column, I nitpicked about the dream.  “While the lengthy dream was frustrating at times to watch, you can’t say it wasn’t a rich 20-plus minutes,” I conceded.

I then launched into an inventory of the dream’s many images of characters who were killed on past episodes of “The Sopranos,” as well as references to “at least three gangster movies … plus three other movies, ‘Chinatown,’ ‘High Noon’ and the 1951 version of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ on whose dream sequence Tony’s dream seemed loosely based.

“But hey, if I wanted to name a bunch of dead people or identify references to old movies, I would go and play Trivial Pursuit,” I wrote dismissively.  “As for Tony’s state of mind, after all these years, I feel I know his state of mind.  At this point, what I really want to know is: What’s he going to do about it?”

But the following month, I must have forgotten about the 23-minute dream because I was full of praise for the show as Season Five came to a close.  “All in all, it was a fine ending to a strong ‘Sopranos’ season,” I wrote, recapping the season finale on June 6.

Then came a long, unprecedented wait of 21½ months for Season Six.  I complained about this interval in August 2005.  “Get the thing back on TV already!” I demanded in a column published on Aug. 21 – nearly 15 months since a new episode of “The Sopranos” had last aired.  “Waiting this long for a TV show to resume is unheard-of,” I pointed out.  “Viewer attention spans [really my attention span] are notoriously short.  If enough time goes by, viewers might find it harder to remember everything that has taken place on a series as rich as ‘The Sopranos.’  They might also forget why they used to care.

“And they might resent getting jerked around too,” I wrote resentfully.

When the show finally returned in March 2006 for its sixth season with a run of 12 episodes, I continued to complain about it.

“Wake me up, I must be dreaming,” read a lead sentence published on March 20, 2006, that echoed a similar lead I wrote more than two years earlier.  This new column was about yet another dream – this one emanating from Tony Soprano as he lay comatose in a hospital intensive-care unit following a near-fatal shooting.  This new one was seen in the second episode of the new season.  It lasted 18 minutes in an episode that ran for 51 minutes.

“Pardon me for dozing,” I wrote of this episode,”  but last night’s glimpse into the dream life of Tony Soprano held nearly no interest for me …

“Yes, fans, the new season of ‘The Sopranos’ is only two episodes old and it’s back to business as usual – ratcheting up the action one week and then inexplicably slamming on the brakes a week later. …

“I don’t know about you,” I wrote wearily, “but after all the dreams and the therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi, I’ve learned all I need to know about the inner life of Tony Soprano.

“What I’d really like to see this season on ‘The Sopranos’ is a plot – you know, a story – with a beginning, middle and, especially, an end.

“This series has become one long exercise in character development,” I complained.  “After a while, though, there comes a time to put these characters into action.  Or call it a day.”

By May 14, with only a few episodes left to go before “The Sopranos” would take another year-long hiatus, I declared the show a flop.  “ ‘The Sopranos’ is flopping badly in its long-awaited return after two years,” I wrote in a column that was not really about “The Sopranos” at all but a preview of the shows HBO had waiting in the wings to assume the “Sopranos” time slot after this run of episodes had run their course.  As such, the column contained no support – such as examples of “The Sopranos’ ” latest shortcomings – for my assessment that the show was “flopping.”

A year later, at the onset of the show’s final episodes, I was much more accommodating as I waxed sentimental about the series.  There would be nine episodes, culminating in the series finale on June 10.  Officially, these nine would complete the show’s sixth season, whose first 12 episodes had aired a year earlier, and which I had described in various columns as plotless and “flopping.”

But not anymore.  “Forgive me for feeling sentimental,” I wrote in a column published on March 28, 2007, that previewed the final episodes (two of which I had already seen after they had been sent over by HBO).

“It’s been a great run,” I wrote magnanimously, “if not for ‘The Sopranos’ then for those of us who have expended gallons of ink over the years dissecting it, praising it, complaining about it – basically glomming on to a phenomenon in whose creation and production we played no part.”

That was true, of course.  We critics do “glom” on to the work of others – at least sometimes.  To a great extent, it was true about “The Sopranos.”  The Post’s relationship with this show was at best symbiotic; at worst, parasitic.  The show was extremely popular with our readers, so we found it irresistible as a means of selling papers.  It never seemed to matter whether my critiques were for or against the show.  It only mattered that people read them, whether they agreed with me or not.

The end came on June 10, 2007.  The final episode of “The Sopranos” was titled “Made in America,” and it is remembered today primarily for the way it ended – with a freeze-frame image of Tony Soprano in a New Jersey burger joint, looking up from his seat in a booth as someone unseen is heard entering through the front door.

The quality of this ending was debated for weeks afterward since the freeze-frame left Tony’s fate uncertain and unresolved.  The conjecture boiled down to this: Who came through the door?  Was it Meadow Soprano, the last of the family members to arrive for dinner?  Or was it some thug who had come to the burger joint to do Tony in?

My own take was that the ending was very creative – one of the most creative endings I had ever seen for a TV series.  To me, it effectively expressed one of the show’s central themes – that, for Tony, his life will always consist of wondering who’s coming through the door, whether it will be someone close to him from either of his two families, or someone else bringing death to his doorstep.

However, I never got the opportunity to opine on the episode.  On the night the finale aired, this particular column assignment went to the Post’s other TV critic, Linda Stasi.

My own column-writing about “The Sopranos” came to an end about three weeks later.  “This is the last ‘Sopranos’ column ever,” I promised in the lead sentence of this column published on July 1, 2007.

“I mean it,” I insisted.  “After this, I plan on never writing about that show again.  I shouldn’t even be writing about it now, except that the topic refuses to go away …

“Since [June 10], the chatter about the final scene – what it meant, what it didn’t mean, who liked it, who didn’t like it – has not abated. …

“ ‘The Sopranos’ is gone,” I wrote.  “Enough already.”

Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” Copyright 2014 by Adam Buckman.  All rights reserved.

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‘News’ about Twitter is news we can’t use

March 19, 2014
Attention, TV news types: Stories about Twitter and Facebook are not news.

Attention, TV news types: Stories about Twitter and Facebook are not news.


You call this news?

That’s the way I’ve been reacting lately whenever I encounter a “news” story on a TV newscast about Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or any other smartphone- or “new media”-related topic.

Though some might disagree (particularly the news producers and their anchors who are reporting this “news”), my own answer to the question is a resounding no.  Then, my inner dialogue advances to this thought: I eagerly await the day when Twitter reactions and videos going viral are no longer considered “news.”

These so-called “stories” are much too prevalent.  You know the type — the “story” about some topic (usually an instance of celebrity misbehavior) “lighting up” Twitter.  “OMG!” a breathless, grinning anchorperson will exclaim, followed by his or her “report” that “[insert topic] is lighting up Twitter!”  Then will come the inevitable “examples” of these reactions that are “lighting up” the “Twitterverse!”

And this is where these “stories” really lose me.  The highlighted tweets are usually so banal (not to mention bordering on illiterate and lacking in real insight) that you wonder why or how this subject became a “story” worth wasting valuable airtime on.  “OMG,” a Twitterer will exclaim in a typical example, “I cant b leave she [or he] did that! WAJ! [what a jerk]“

I get the same feeling that I’m being had whenever a story is introduced with words to this effect: “It’s the video that going viral today — watch these kittens who seem like they’re dancing the macarena!”

Or, a video-of-the-day may be a clip culled from security-camera footage of a hold-up at a convenience store, or footage from a trooper’s dashboard cam of a particularly difficult arrest in the shoulder of a highway.  Often, these are promoted in such a way on the local newscasts here in New York City that you think the clips were derived locally.  Then, after waiting for almost the entire newscast to see them, you learn they’re from some other state or, worse, some other country.

In New York, the greatest offender of this resort to stories about, and found on, the Internet is the Fox-owned station, Ch. 5.  The station’s 10 o’clock news is so devoted to (and reliant on) stories and tie-ins to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube that the show ought to be renamed “The 10 O’Clock News about Twitter and Facebook.”

Suffice it to say that clips found on the Internet from other locales — be they clips of kittens or crimes — have no business being categorized as news and then clogging up TV newscasts.

Or, to put it another way: Why have the reactions of ordinary people on social media — people with no involvement whatsoever in the stories themselves — become such a vital part of everyone’s reporting these days?  I can’t wait until this particular fad is over.

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Lotta people getting their heads blown off on TV

March 18, 2014


It’s a sweeping generalization to be sure, but I’ll say it anyway:

When you get right down to it, TV today can be boiled down to this: It’s a lot of people getting their heads blown off.

Charlie Hunnam in "Sons of Anarchy."

Charlie Hunnam in “Sons of Anarchy.”

Hey, maybe I watch too many violent TV shows, but recently when I encountered yet another blood-splattered scene featuring a bullet administered to another person’s forehead, I had an epiphany.  The thought that occurred to me was this: I’ve seen so many of these forehead-busting gunshots on TV that I don’t even think about them anymore.

Of course, I was thinking about it then, but that’s the point.  I’ve seen so many of them that it came as a surprise to be giving the subject a second thought.  And I wondered: How many heads blown off have I actually seen in a lifetime of watching television?

The scene that triggered this line of thinking was one that occurred in a recent episode of “The Americans” on FX.  That’s the series about Soviet spies who are embedded in the Washington suburbs in the final years of the Cold War in the 1980s.  This particular skull-shattering pistol shot occurred after a mini-massacre in the back room of a restaurant.  The victim was a hapless busboy who had the misfortune to still be hanging around at work.  Well, the gunman — the spy named Phillip played by Matthew Rhys — took one look at this would-be witness cowering in a corner and without substantial hesitation splattered the poor guy’s brains all over the kitchen wall.

I don’t mean to pick on “The Americans” or even FX in particular, but it just so happens that FX is where these shots to the head seem to be administered the most frequently and, it bears mentioning, the most casually.  Jax Teller, the motorcycle club president played by Charlie Hunnam on “Sons of Anarchy,” has emerged as TV’s champion of the casual headshot.  Sure, Jax is an unpredictable character, but this was one aspect of his personality that became predictable last season: Often when you did not expect it, Jax would suddenly produce a gun and blow someone’s brains out, instantly solving whatever complicated “problem” he was trying to work through.

What’s the point?  Just this — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before (because I’ve written variations on it many times): Violence on TV has become so gruesome that frequently seeing people shot in the head (with the resultant gore blasting from the backs of their skulls and onto walls, lamps and draperies) isn’t even shocking anymore.

There has to be something wrong with that, right?

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David Brenner: ‘Cool dude’ with a shag haircut

March 18, 2014
David Brenner with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

David Brenner with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”


The obituaries and tributes following the news of David Brenner’s death last weekend all made mention of his generosity toward other comedians.

Colin Quinn

Colin Quinn

One comedian who admired Brenner was Colin Quinn, who brought up Brenner’s name when I interviewed Quinn in 2011 in advance of Quinn’s then-upcoming special on HBO titled “Long Story Short.”

“Who are your favorite comics? Who influenced your comedy?” I asked Quinn during our interview conducted in a small office at HBO in Manhattan.

“I hate to be the cliché, but it was Richard Pryor, George Carlin. I mean, those are the big influences.  And then I remember David Brenner,” Quinn said.

“When I was probably in my early teens, David Brenner was on ‘The Tonight Show’ and he had a brown leather jacket, open shirt down to here, gold chains and a shag haircut and I was like, Wow, a comedian can be like a sexy, cool dude and still be funny!”

Read the whole interview:

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The rights and the wrongs of Fallon’s debut

February 18, 2014
Jimmy Fallon in his debut as host of "The Tonight Show" Monday night. (Photo: NBC)

Jimmy Fallon in his debut as host of “The Tonight Show” Monday night. (Photo: NBC)


Jimmy Fallon and his handlers got a great deal of it right in producing his debut show as host of “The Tonight Show” Monday night.

The set was beautiful — a classy interior that reflected the iconic architecture of midtown Manhattan where the newly relocated “Tonight Show” is now situated.

The show made the most of its new New York  home when it featured a sunset performance by U2 on the roof of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  It was as if to say to doubters who pooh-poohed the show’s move from California (doubters such as yours truly): Here’s why we moved from boring suburban Burbank to the very center of New York City,  OK?

And, as if to dispel the notion that New York would not be as fertile a location as southern California for accessing A-list guests (again, yours truly is guilty as charged with promoting this perception), a parade of A-listers came on one at a time to participate in an elaborate comedy bit “welcoming” Jimmy to “The Tonight Show” — from Robert De Niro to Lady Gaga.

They’re both closely associated with New York City, but at least one of the other stars was not — Kim Kardashian — who’s a southern California celebrity if there ever was one.  She’s also the only one of the celebs seen Monday night on “Tonight” who was also seen on Jay Leno’s final show earlier this month, providing (perhaps inadvertently) the only discernible link between the two shows.

In fact, Fallon’s “Tonight Show” was so shiny and new and full of upbeat energy that it was easy to forget that Leno was last seen a mere 12 days earlier.   While watching the debut of the Fallon “Tonight Show” Monday night, it seemed as if Leno had been gone a lot longer, and his “Tonight Show” a relic of the distant past, rather than a show that ran for the better part of 22 years and ended only on Feb. 6.

Previously: Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight’: Jimmy’s ‘Romper Room’ mentality will render ‘The Tonight Show’ completely unrecognizable

One nice touch: Positioning the U2 rooftop performance in the middle of the show, something late-night shows never do traditionally.   Placing the musical guests at the end of the show — as all of the shows do — is so customary that slotting the U2 number earlier in the show was a downright revolutionary thing to do.  I found myself thinking: Hey, are they allowed to do that?  It turns out that they are.

The only weakness of the show was, again, Fallon’s comportment with his guests.  With both Will Smith and U2, Fallon played the role of the wide-eyed, grinning, giggling fan who just can’t believe that these stars are sitting there in the same room with him.

It’s an attitude he ought to lose: The top-tier hosts in late-night have never affected that pose.  David Letterman, Jay Leno, even Jimmy Kimmel — they always come across as if they regard these celebrities as their equals, not as sacred idols whose presence on their shows constitutes some sort of miracle.

That was the style established by Johnny Carson, whose mantle Jimmy Fallon now wears, for better or worse.  Get used to it.

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Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight’

February 14, 2014
MANCHILD IN THE PROMISED LAND: Jimmy Fallon drenches Tom Cruise with water on NBC's "Late Night."

MANCHILD IN THE PROMISED LAND: Jimmy Fallon drenches Tom Cruise with water on NBC’s “Late Night.”



No one in their right mind would describe Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” as sophisticated, but it’s sure going to seem that way when it is compared to what we’re in for when Jimmy Fallon takes over.

Fallon’s “Tonight Show” takeover, which starts Monday night, represents a high-profile triumph for the forces of immaturity.  He is the embodiment of the Peter Pan mentality that seems to have  gripped a generation of young men for whom childlike pranks and games are the most important things in life.

RACER'S EDGE: Josh Duhamel (right) in an ice-chest go-cart race with Jimmy Fallon.

RACER’S EDGE: Josh Duhamel (right) in an ice-chest go-cart race with Jimmy Fallon.

Not satisfied with simply talking to his guests, Fallon is like a hyperactive child with ants in his pants who always seems on the verge of leaping from his chair.  Maybe that’s because he simply can’t wait for the fun-and-games portion of the show, when he will force some hapless guest to race him down a back hallway in a go-cart, join him in an egg-smashing contest, or get drenched with a Super Soaker.

Since Fallon has insisted repeatedly — without apparent embarrassment — that he plans to basically do the show he’s been doing when he assumes his “starring” role on “The Tonight Show,” then we can assume he plans on turning “The Tonight Show” into some kind of late-night version of “Double Dare.”

Warning to anyone sitting in Fallon’s “Tonight Show” guest chair: You might get slimed.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with having fun on a late-night show.  But the key to success in late-night, among other things, has traditionally been the host’s — and his support personnel’s — skill in balancing their show’s more manic portions with the quieter segments, which, generally speaking, are the celebrity-guest portions.

EGGHEADS: Tom Cruise and Fallon have an egg war.

EGGHEADS: Tom Cruise and Fallon have an egg war.

One could argue that the celebrity interview portions of the late-night shows are often the dullest parts of the shows, but that all depends on the guest and the interviewing skills of the host.

David Letterman happens to be good  at this, and Jimmy Kimmel does a fair job as well.

No one will ever accuse Jay Leno of possessing interviewing skills on par with Barbara Walters, but Leno made his celebrity guests feel relaxed and comfortable and the segments seemed tailor-made for the half-hour after midnight when a great chunk of his viewing audience was closing in on bedtime.

One of Fallon’s problems is that he seems incapable of carrying on a conversation with a guest that consists of anything more than Fallon fawning all over him (or her).  As a result, he relies heavily on back-hallway footraces to relieve him of the apparent torture of talking to somebody.

The last thing any late-night viewer needs is to be suddenly jolted into full wakefulness by a grown man — Fallon — suddenly breaking into a water balloon war with Tom Cruise.  Sure, this stuff seemed to go over well with Fallon’s audience at 12:37 a.m. perhaps because they were on the younger side and not particularly put off by Fallon’s “Romper Room” mentality.

But “The Tonight Show” is not “Romper Room.”  Traditionally, “The Tonight Show” has been a show by and for grownups — not old people, just mature ones.  I suppose it’s asking too much to hope that Fallon, who’s 39 for heaven’s sake, will grow up by Monday night.

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Quiet giant: An encounter with Sid Caesar

February 13, 2014

The following excerpt on Sid Caesar — who died Wednesday at age 91 — is adapted from my forthcoming (hopefully) book titled “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” my own personal history of TV — how I covered it, watched it and criticized it for 30 years.


I learned early on that, as a profession, you couldn’t beat journalism for opening doors and throwing you into unexpected situations where you would find yourself in close proximity with the rich and famous, even though you, the lowly journalist, was neither.  I would have these experiences that, to me, were otherworldly.

f8_35In 1988, CBS convened a press event at the Friars Club on East 55th Street to promote an upcoming made-for-TV movie and I found myself in an oak-paneled reception area on the second floor, the Joe E. Lewis Room, with about two dozen reporters, a smattering of CBS executives and publicists, and the movie’s three co-stars – Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Danny Thomas.

The movie was called “Side by Side” and these three legends of television had been persuaded to play three retirees who go into business together manufacturing a line of designer clothing for senior citizens.

Berle, then 79, was the most loquacious of the three.  He stood up in front of the group of reporters, who were seated on folding chairs, reached into an inside pocket of his jacket, and withdrew the biggest cigar I have ever seen.

He lit it theatrically and then cheerfully answered a handful of questions.  Afterward, he mingled with the reporters, entertaining small groups of us with chit-chat, throwaway lines and stories about show business.

Thomas, 74, and Caesar, 65, were less sociable.  After the brief news conference, Thomas took a seat at a small corner table, where he sat imperiously frowning for the remainder of the event, staring owlishly from behind thick glasses, his hands perched on top of his cane, waiting for reporters to come to him.  Few did.

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

Caesar, notoriously shy, positioned himself along a wall near the entrance to the room.  He was so unassuming that I lost sight of him, concluding that he had probably already slipped out quietly and left.  At one point, however, while I was engaged in a conversation with a reporter friend of mine, we suddenly realized that Sid Caesar, this legend of TV’s first decade and one of the most famous personalities in the entire history of television, was standing right behind us.

I had first been exposed to Caesar in 1973, the year 10 sketches from his old TV show of the 1950s, “Your Show of Shows,” were packaged into a movie called “10 from Your Show of Shows” and released in theaters.  At age 13, I came away from the experience of seeing this movie mesmerized by Caesar and the all-out recklessness of his physical comedy, particularly in the sketch that spoofed another old TV show, “This is Your Life.”

Caesar played a man sitting innocently in the studio audience whose name is suddenly called (by co-star Carl Reiner in the role of the show’s host) to participate in the show and then tries desperately to escape, throwing his overcoat at Reiner and then  assaulting everyone who blocks his path.

In 1988, standing in the Friars Club chatting amiably with Sid Caesar, I was again struck by the same questions that often occurred to me in such situations: How is this possible?  How am I standing here in 1988 talking amiably with Sid Caesar, the imposing giant from that manic black-and-white TV show, “Your Show of Shows,” the guy from the 1950s who tore recklessly through a TV studio in a “This is Your Life” sketch and who drove me to convulsions with his talent for nonsensically mimicking foreign languages?

I had the same reaction another time, when I actually witnessed Caesar do his dialect routine, with Imogene Coca standing beside him, at yet another TV industry banquet, this one a fund-raising dinner at the Pierre Hotel thrown by the Museum of Broadcasting.

It was another one of those experiences where I found myself rubbing elbows with the high and mighty of the broadcasting business, though I had nothing whatsoever in common with them.

They were there because their companies were supporters of the museum.  Their banquet tables cost their companies thousands of dollars, while my seat at this sumptuous event cost me absolutely nothing.

In a very general sense, that’s what journalism is, especially “beat” journalism in which you dedicate your efforts to covering a single subject or industry, in my case the television business.  I was invited, of course, because my hosts expected repayment in some sort of publicity – for themselves, their new shows, their museum.

But I rarely paid off.  Steak lunches, elaborate banquets, conversations with Milton Berle and Sid Caesar – these strange and serendipitous experiences never cost me a dime – either in real money or publicity.  And I never stopped being invited, which was a good thing too because I was having a good time, while learning the TV business from the inside out.

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Excerpt from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman.  Copyright © 2014 Adam Buckman /All rights reserved

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Annals of Leno: 4 biggest ways NBC insulted Jay

January 29, 2014
END OF AN ERA: Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" 1992-2014.

END OF AN ERA: Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” 1992-2014.


In these final days of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” NBC’s indifference to Leno has been breathtaking.

Here’s a guy who maintained the network’s dominance in the one time period left where this once-mighty network could still lay claim to a top ranking in the Nielsen ratings, and yet, you get the feeling that NBC can’t wait until he vacates the premises.

The way he’s being treated, you would think he was personally offensive or something — like an unwanted guest with body odor.

Here are four ways NBC has insulted a man who is, arguably, the network’s top star:

1) They gave Jimmy Fallon “starring” billing: This is an important point.   In show business, billing is everything.  So when Fallon was awarded “starring” billing in the new “Tonight Show” title (as in, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”), you had to wonder why NBC never gave Leno “starring” billing (his show was always “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”).  The last person to have “starring” in the show’s title was Johnny Carson.  Tradition seemed to hold that one might earn “starring” billing after a number of years in the job — which means Leno should have earned it long ago.  But he never got it.

Related post: Aftermath: 4 million Leno viewers up for grabs

2) They’re moving “The Tonight Show” to New York: This idea is still puzzling since such a move would seem to instantly handicap the new “Tonight Show” in its pursuit of guests — the majority of whom can be found in California.  The reasons for the move probably have more to do with a personal preference on the part of Fallon or, more to the point, his boss Lorne Michaels, for living on the East Coast.  Whatever.  The point here is: The move is another slap at Leno, implying that, somehow, the West Coast “Tonight Show” became so tattered and woebegone when he hosted it that drastic measures such as moving the show to New York simply had to be undertaken in order to rejuvenate and save the show (which happens to be No. 1 in late-night).

3) They are largely ignoring Leno’s final shows: There is none of the buildup — in the form of promo spots or general excitement — that came in the days leading up to Carson’s farewell in 1992.  And even though Leno’s “Tonight Show” has far fewer viewers than Carson’s did at that time, Leno still deserves attention in these final days — if only to drive up the ratings for his final shows for the sake of earning more money from advertisers.  Instead, when you watch these final shows, you get the feeling Leno and his staff are just kind of winging it on their own — producing various “best-of” segments, and booking guests with long ties to the show and to Leno.  In fact, these farewell shows have been quite good — and once again, the only people who appreciate them are the people who have watched Leno all along.

But not NBC, of course.  Instead, Leno is getting showcased everywhere else — including a profile and interview on “60 Minutes” on CBS, an appearance on his friend Ellen DeGeneres’ afternoon talk show, and last Friday, a one-hour special about his life and career on CNN.  But on NBC?  So far, nothing.

4) They booted him from the show in the first place: As written many times previously (at least by me), NBC never really had to remove Leno, since he was leading all the competition in both total viewers and the 18-49 demo the networks crave.  Instead, the network programming execs could have simply focused on everything else that’s wrong on the network — from mornings to prime time.  But hey, what do I know …

To his credit, Leno isn’t revealing how he really feels about the way NBC has treated him.  In the “60 Minutes” interview, he adopted a hard-headed, business-like approach to the situation.  Simply put, the money NBC pays him (which he himself agreed to reduce voluntarily not long ago in order to save some jobs on the “Tonight Show” staff) makes the insults easier to swallow.  Said he, “Look, show business pays you a lot of money, because eventually you’re gonna get screwed. …  That’s the way it works.  That’s the way these things are.”

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Aftermath: 4 million Leno viewers up for grabs

January 29, 2014
Jay Leno (right) and Jimmy Fallon in a publicity shot created by NBC last year.

Jay Leno (right) and Jimmy Fallon in a publicity shot created by NBC last year.


It’s the big question underlying the Jay Leno-Jimmy Fallon switch on “The Tonight Show”: WWTTSFMVD?

That ungainly (and none too clever) acronym means this: What will “The Tonight Show’s” 4 million viewers do?

Four million is the Leno show’s nightly average (most recently for the week of Jan. 13-17).  An hour later, NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” averages around 2 million per night (2.1 million that same week).   Which means: To equal Leno’s average in total viewers: Fallon will need to add about 2 million viewers a night — almost twice the audience he now draws at 12:35 a.m.

He’ll need fewer than that 2 million to beat David Letterman on CBS and Jimmy Kimmel on ABC at 11:35 though.  Kimmel averages around 2.5 million viewers a night.  Letterman had a nightly average of 2.9 million during the week of Jan. 13-17.

But that’s the battle for “total viewers,” which doesn’t mean much when it comes to selling lucrative commercial minutes in late-night.  The more crucial battleground is the demo race — viewers 18-49 — the so-called “younger” viewers networks crave.

Guess who always wins that battle? Jay Leno — the “old” guy NBC is jettisoning for the “young” guy Fallon.  Leno, 63, had a 0.9 rating in 18-49s during the week of Jan. 13-17.  He beat Letterman, 66, and Kimmel, 46, who tied at 0.6.  At 12:35, Fallon, 39, had a 0.7 rating in the demo — which means he could win the demo race against Letterman and Kimmel at 11:35.

In a nutshell, that’s the reason NBC is moving Fallon to “The Tonight Show” in the earlier time period — because the network believes he can maintain, or possibly improve on, Leno’s dominance in the demo.  Of course, one could argue that the network could just as well have kept Leno there, since he was winning the demo already.  But as far as arguments go, that ship has sailed.

The question remains: What will these 4 million viewers do?  It’s not an easy question to answer:

1) A number of them could go to Letterman: If you subscribe to the theory that older viewers (the ones not in the key target demo anyway) will likely seek out Leno’s only remaining age-group peer in late-night television, then Letterman could experience a sudden spike in viewership.  In fact, it could be enough for Dave to reclaim the top spot in total viewers for the first time since 1995.

2) On the other hand, Leno’s fans chose Jay for years over Letterman: Though they’re close in age, Leno and Letterman are far different, with distinct styles and audiences.  They are so different that the last thing a long-time Leno fan might do is suddenly adopt a nightly Letterman habit.  It’s just as unlikely that Fallon or Kimmel will emerge as credible substitutes for Leno either.  It could come to pass that at least some of these 4 million viewers — perhaps the older ones — might give up on late-night TV altogether.

3) Some of the 4 million will stick around, though, and seek out a new show to watch every night.  And it’s entirely possible they’ll bypass Letterman in favor of Fallon and/or Kimmel.  Still, for the diehard Leno fan of a certain age, the younger, manic comedy of Fallon will take some getting used-to.  (Really — sometimes watching Fallon is like watching a hyperactive child.)   As for Kimmel, he has a comedic point-of-view that’s all his own, and he has been famously outspoken about his personal distaste for Leno — which could prevent some Leno fans from adopting a Kimmel habit.  One possible scenario: The Leno audience will get split primarily between Fallon and Letterman, leaving Kimmel pretty much where he is now, with 2.5 million viewers nightly.

Good riddance, 2013: My TV year in review

December 11, 2013
With highlights like this, who needs to remember 2013? Bill Maher compared Donald Trump to an orangutan and the feud Maher ignited lasted most of the year.

With highlights like this, who needs to remember 2013? Bill Maher compared Donald Trump to an orangutan and the feud Maher ignited lasted most of the year.


It was one of the strangest years in my long personal history on the TV beat.

Looking back in search of the year’s highlights, I find mostly lowlights.

With a few notable exceptions, the TV stories I covered that drew our attention in 2013 were either contentious and crude or irrelevant and trivial.

Falling into the former category: Alec Baldwin becoming embroiled in at least three controversies over slurs (two homophobic and one racial) he probably uttered (and then denied) in confrontations with reporters and photographers who doorstepped him outside his New York apartment house.

Plus, at least two incidents in which TV personalities flipped each other the bird on TV: David Letterman flourishing his middle digit at guest Rob Lowe in October, and Savannah Guthrie doing the same to Matt Lauer when he made some stupid comment about her unfamiliarity with a vacuum cleaner on “The Today Show.”

Here’s a request: Hey, you television people, how about dialing down the crass behavior in 2014?  Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.

Monkey see, monkey do: Justin Bieber and capuchin monkey (inset).

Monkey see, monkey do: Justin Bieber and capuchin monkey (inset).

On the trivial side: The late-night hosts joked for the better part of a week about Justin Bieber having his monkey confiscated in Germany; they spent a month (or more) doing jokes about twerking and Miley Cyrus; and the entire year joking about Chris Christie’s weight.

Sharon Osbourne revealed she had a fling long ago with Jay Leno; rotund comic Louie Anderson was somehow persuaded to participate in the ABC diving-competition show called “Splash”; Hollywood heavyweight Jeff Garlin went after some guy’s Mercedes in an L.A. parking dispute; and the year’s most talked-about TV movie was “Sharknado.”

Everyone lied about Steve Carell returning for the series finale of “The Office” (they said he wouldn’t, and then he did).  Barbara Walters lied (seemingly) about her retirement (she said she wouldn’t, but then she announced she would) and about Elisabeth Hasselbeck leaving “The View” (Walters said Elisabeth wouldn’t be leaving and then Elisabeth left).

My favorite story of the year? Probably the feud Bill Maher ignited with Donald Trump when Maher comedically likened Trump’s orange hair to the fur of an orangutan.   The “feud” continued through at least three-quarters of the year, and I got five stories out of it stretching from January to September — here, here, here, here and here.

It was a year of sad news: Cory Monteith of “Glee” fatally overdosing at age 31, and James Gandolfini suddenly dying too, at age 51 — not that I ever met or knew either of them.

Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem

I am, or was, acquainted with Casey Kasem, and the stories emanating from his household this year about his relatives fighting over access to him while he suffers from what seems like a grave illness were also sad.  Though it’s been years since I last talked to him, I have always thought of him as one of the finest people I have ever come across in the broadcasting business.

The biggest ongoing story of 2013 was one that will be continued this coming February: The changes in late-night TV.  The ball got rolling last January when Jimmy Kimmel moved to 11:35 p.m. on ABC, followed by the announcement later in the year that Jay Leno would relinquish “The Tonight Show” to Jimmy Fallon.

Prediction: Fallon will do about as well as Conan O’Brien (if he’s lucky), although it’s not as likely that Jay Leno will come back this time.

A&E cancelled “Hoarders.”  And “Breaking Bad” had a series finale that everyone knew deep down was wholly implausible, and yet the “critics” gushed about it anyway.

I wrote slightly more than 600 stories in 2013, appeared on TV three times, and did six radio interviews — all on WOR in New York and five of them on “The Joan Hamburg Show,” which next year will be banished to weekends.  Alas.

I made two appearances in public, moderating seminars put on by the Center for Communication in New York.  Our panel of reality-TV execs from four cable channels last March was enlivened when a female questioner from our audience stepped up to the microphone we set up near the seats and, without hesitation, removed her shirt.  It was another first for me …

I met few celebrities and interviewed even fewer in 2013.  One exception was Lena Dunham, who was focused, intelligent and shrewd — a very good interview subject — when I met her at HBO last January.  I still don’t think I’ve ever watched an entire episode of “Girls,” however.

In July, I came to the realization that I have spent 30 years on the TV beat when I came across my first bylined TV story, a Q&A by phone with Joan Rivers, published on July 25, 1983, in the now-defunct trade newspaper called Broadcast Week.

I still cannot decide if this was a milestone worth celebrating.

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Please read my stories on the Xfinity TV Blog

October 21, 2013
Look for stories on these hot topics ion the Xfinity TV Blog -- just click on the links, below.

Look for stories on these hot topics on the Xfinity TV Blog, and much, more more  – just click on the links, below.

Many thanks to all of you repeat visitors here at, and my apologies if you’re not finding new posts to read here.  But the fact is, most of my work can now be found here — on Comcast’s Xfinity TV Blog — which you are cordially invited to click on and read.

Recent stories and columns include:

Letterman Can’t Pin Down O’Reilly on Redskins Name Issue

More Than 8 Million Watch ‘Duck Dynasty’ Denizens Make Jerky

Kerry Washington To Host ‘SNL’ For The First Time Nov. 2

Monster Ratings for ‘Walking Dead’ Season Premiere

‘Breaking Bad’ Finale: A Lot of Blood, And Revenge Served Cold

Cote de Pablo’s Ziva Says Good-Bye to ‘NCIS’

NBC’s Costas Comes Out Against Redskins Team Name

HBO’s ‘Girls’ Returns Jan. 12, Along With Debut of ‘True Detective’

… and many, many more.

Thank you for reading!

Adam Buckman

Paula Deen N-word controversy: TV Howl on CNN

June 24, 2013

Watch TV Howl’s Adam Buckman (OK, that’s me) on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” this past Sunday morning, trying to make sense of the Paula Deen N-word controversy that cost her her job on the Food Network last week.

Did I succeed (along with host Howard Kurtz and fellow guest Marisa Guthrie)?  Watch the clip and decide for yourself, right here:

Thank you for visiting!

– Adam Buckman

TV Howl is takin’ a breather

June 18, 2013

Not finding anything new here lately on

Well, that’s because there hasn’t been anything new here in quite a while.   However, you are cordially invited to enjoy the high-quality content that is here — and also to visit, where TVHowl’s Adam Buckman is serving up fresh content daily. 

As always, thank you for visiting

– Adam Buckman

A few more from the Xfinity/Comcast archive

April 9, 2013
Clockwise from upper left: Late-night hosts react to the Leno-Fallon news, "Saturday Night Live" with Melissa McCarthy and Peter Dinklage, Kathy Griffin, Justin Bieber and a monkey (Photos: NBC, CBS, TBS, ABC, Getty, Bravo)

Clockwise from upper left: Late-night hosts react to the Leno-Fallon news, “Saturday Night Live” with Melissa McCarthy and Peter Dinklage, Kathy Griffin, Justin Bieber and a monkey (Photos: NBC, CBS, TBS, ABC, Getty, Bravo)

By ADAM BUCKMAN isn’t the only place you can read my take on the late-night wars — and just about every other TV topic under the sun too.

Don’t miss these recent stories, only on Late-Night Shockwave: Hosts React to Leno-Fallon News; ‘SNL’ Recap: Peter Dinklage is ‘Uncle Drunklage’: Watch; Bravo Cancels Kathy Griffin’s Talk Show; and my personal favorite, Justin Bieber’s Monkey Evolves Into Hot Late-Night Topic — about all the jokes they made on the late-night shows about Bieber’s monkey being detained at a German airport.

Don’t miss ‘em!

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Who will replace Letterman? Enter Conan

April 5, 2013

Editor’s note: This blog post was first published here on a year ago, on April 5, 2013.  Now, in the wake of David Letterman’s announcement this past week (April 3, 2014) that he has decided to retire next year, this year-old post suggesting Conan O’Brien as his best possible replacement, has suddenly taken on new relevance.  Thank you for reading. — Adam Buckman.

Conan O'Brien on his TBS show "Conan" (Photo: TBS)

Conan O’Brien on his TBS show “Conan” (Photo: TBS)


It’s a funny thing about predictions: They have a way of being wrong — especially mine.

Nevertheless, here’s a prediction that’s part educated guess and part wishful thinking: The man who will (or should) be hired eventually to succeed David Letterman is Conan O’Brien.

Why? Because when all the candidates and their qualifications are sifted and weighed, Conan should emerge as the one with the best resumé — not to mention the best temperament and fan base for the job.

Here’s the case for Conan:

1) Conan is the one guy who can give the two Jimmies a run for their money: Conan O’Brien would give CBS the best chance of maintaining a level playing field with Jimmy Fallon (who’s now 38) and Jimmy Kimmel (now 45) or even beating them.  Though he’s a few years older than each of them, Conan — who will turn 50 this month — is cut from the same generational cloth as those two.  And because he is a few years older, his fans have been with him longer.  They’re also intensely loyal and will doubtlessly follow him wherever he goes.

Also read: An aging generation mourns loss of Jay, Dave

2) Conan is well-connected, well-liked, and experienced on both coasts: He’s the only late-night host of his generation who’s done shows in both New York and California and he is apparently comfortable in both.  Moreover, he’s been around long enough to have formed relationships with dozens (if not hundreds) of A-list celebrities.  And, like Fallon, he comes out of the Lorne Michaels/”Saturday Night Live”/”Late Night” world and has many of the same friendships that those guys have.  If Conan were to come to New York and take up residence at the Ed Sullivan Theater, the late-night booking wars in New York would be intense.

Or, if it somehow came to pass that CBS would move “Late Show” to California — to take up the vacuum that will be left there after “The Tonight Show” shifts to New York — Conan would likely do very well when competing with Kimmel for West Coast guests.

3) Of all the late-night hosts out there, Conan O’Brien is the one who is most like Letterman.  Like Dave, Conan is the one guy who is the “least similar” (or “most different”) from the other late-night hosts.  For example, as  one columnist pointed out the other day, when you stop and really look at Jimmy Fallon, his style bears similarities to Jay Leno’s — greeting every guest as if he or she is just the greatest actor/actress/comedian/recording star/whatever who has ever lived, and then engaging in a conversation with him or her in which everything he or she says is just the cleverest thing Fallon has ever heard in his life.   (Actually, come to think of it, he’s more prone to this behavior than Leno.)

But Conan?  Like Letterman, he goes his own way with guests.  Sure, he’s well-mannered with them, but on his show, they’re not always regarded as sacred cows.  A case in point was the bit seen the other night on “Conan,” when Triumph the Insult-Comic Dog encountered the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and verbally assaulted them without mercy.

Late-night wars: Our coverage so far:

NBC’s bold move: Fix a show that wasn’t broken

Fallon in 2011: I’ll take over when Jay’s ready

Leno jokes: ‘Young’ Jay will replace ‘old’ Dave

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

Of course, this whole scenario would depend heavily on how Conan himself perceives his future, where he wants to take his career, whether he’d even consider a move back to New York to host “Late Show” or whether CBS would even be interested in him (my guess is: They will be).  At present, Conan seems satisfied at TBS, and the people at Turner seem happy enough with him that they just extended his contract to November 2015.

In addition, no reports have emerged during all the recent attention being paid to the succession plan now in place at “The Tonight Show” that CBS is now thinking about doing the same thing with Letterman and his “Late Show.”

The last time anyone addressed the prospect of Letterman calling it a day was Letterman himself, when he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for one of her “Next Chapter” shows that aired on OWN last January.  Dave talked about it when Oprah asked him about his relationship with CBS President Les Moonves.

Yes,” Dave said then, “I really abused him [years ago on "Late Show"] because I thought that’s what guys in that position were for. I realized I was making mistakes and they’ve been nothing but gracious and generous to me. So now, he and I have an agreement: When he wants me to go, all he has to do is call and say, ‘You know, Dave, it’s time to go,’ and I’ll go. I will miss doing what I’m doing, but I won’t feel like I have left anything on the table.”

Well, whether the end of the Letterman era (whenever it eventually happens) will play out quite that smoothly, with Letterman acquiescing that readily, remains to be seen.

Still, the odds favor it happening in the next few years, and Conan O’Brien is the best fit to replace him.  The fact is (and not that anyone should care how I feel personally about the situation), I have always liked Conan.  And if he was to get another shot at competing in the 11:35 p.m. time period, then, to me, all would be right in the universe.

And if and when it happens, please remember that you read it here first (unless someone else has already written it and you’ve read it elsewhere — which is entirely possible!).

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Contact Adam Buckman:

NBC’s bold move: Fix a show that wasn’t broken

April 4, 2013
This is the photo NBC sent out on Wednesday to accompany its press release about the Leno-Fallon "Tonight Show" takeover.  What does the photo mean?  Search me.  (Photo: NBC)

This is the photo NBC sent out on Wednesday to accompany its press release about the Leno-Fallon “Tonight Show” takeover. What does the photo mean? Search me. (Photo: NBC)


They didn’t have to do anything.

That’s what’s so mysterious about NBC’s decision to push Jay Leno out the door to pave the way for Jimmy Fallon to take over “The Tonight Show.”

Lost in all the hysteria in the 24 hours since the announcement (not to mention all the tumult behind the scenes and on stage over the last several weeks) was this simple fact: “The Tonight Show” was fine, and NBC could have kept Leno around for years and it still would have been fine.

Instead, you have a network and its executives behaving as if “The Tonight Show” was an old wooden house that was burning to the ground, and they’re a group of firemen who have been called upon in a dire emergency to save it.

So they applied the most drastic measures possible — awarding the show to another younger guy who, like Conan O’Brien before him, acquits himself well every night on the network’s other late-night show, but who, like Conan, is no sure thing in the earlier time period.

And as if that wasn’t enough to extinguish the “blazing inferno” that is late-night’s highest-rated show, the network decides to move the show to New York from Los Angeles — the city where it reigned supreme in its time period for most of its 42 years there.

“Tonight Show” turmoil: Our coverage so far:

Fallon in 2011: I’ll take over when Jay’s ready

Leno jokes: ‘Young’ Jay will replace ‘old’ Dave

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

Certainly, the real conflagration burning down the house at NBC is its prime-time lineup — which for years now has featured show after show after show that no one wants to watch.  Meanwhile, with Jay Leno as host, “The Tonight Show” has been a show people want to watch for 22 years.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon is being portrayed by NBC as the man who will “save” “The Tonight Show” — a show that didn’t need saving.

So why’d they do it?  A couple of theories on that — all wrong-headed:

1) Jay, who will be 63 this month, was getting too old, and if he continued as host and aged on the air, younger viewers would abandon him for Jimmy Kimmel on ABC. 

This happens to be hogwash.  Leno has been aging on the air for 20 years and has long held his own with the younger viewers NBC craves.  The thing about this “aging” issue: When a TV personality becomes “too old” to continue, it becomes fairly obvious to everyone.  Clearly, Leno’s voice still booms and, to all appearances, he seems to maintain a hale and hearty constitution.  Who knows: Maybe as he approached 70, he would have seemed “too old” to host a late-night show.  Or maybe he would have become even more beloved.  Who knows?  We’ll never know now.

Moreover, it’s doubtful that Fallon, at least in his first year or more, will equal Leno’s ratings in total viewers (that is, people of any and all ages), even if he draws a respectable number of younger viewers.  Thus, with Fallon, NBC will draw fewer viewers overall, but it might get a bump up in the 18-49 demo.  That’s wrong-headed for a very basic reason: At its core, network TV is supposed to be about growing audiences, not accepting lower ones, for whatever the reason.

2) If Fallon wasn’t guaranteed “The Tonight Show” in this round of contract negotiations (which apparently wrapped the day before NBC’s announcement this week), then he’d leave for another network. 

Maybe he’d even replace Letterman on CBS in a few years and would then be competing with NBC.  Or maybe not.  The real question is: Who cares?  This reason is always trotted out by some at times like these, as if a talent like Fallon is so irreplaceable that the network’s very future hangs in the balance.  It’s just not true.  Or, at the very least, one has no way of knowing if it will be true or not.   Thus, there’s no rational reason to base decision-making on that kind of “what if.”

And by the way, there’s no guarantee that Fallon will do any better in the ratings on “The Tonight Show” than he’s doing on “Late Night.”   Nor is there any evidence he would beat the pants off NBC if he wound up elsewhere.  Here’s a prediction: When Fallon takes over “The Tonight Show,” that show’s traditional viewers will flock to Letterman and Dave will emerge as the top-rated personality in late-night.

3) “The Tonight Show” needed fixing: On the contrary, “The Tonight Show” is a well-oiled machine, functioning in all ways as it is supposed to — writers and producers creating funny, topical monologues for the host, dreaming up comedy bits, and booking A-list celebrities for Leno to chat with and musical guests to end each evening.  It’s not rocket science, but nor is it easy to do. And yet, NBC has decided the time is ripe to completely dismantle and uproot this thing.

And by the way, part of the show’s success stems from its location in southern California, where it is well-established as a must-visit destination for every TV, movie and music star in the area — which happens to be most of them.  Moving this show to New York, where it will be just another NBC late-night show originating from 30 Rock, just feels like the wrong move.

Don’t miss this one from the TV Howl archives — April 2011: Kimmel vs. Fallon: A tale of two JimmiesI told you so!

The bottom line is: What if NBC had just done nothing, and instead focused its attention on the dayparts that are really in trouble — such as prime time and mornings?  Here’s another prediction: The world would not end.   And NBC would have had something to brag about — a nearly unbroken record of dominance in late-night.    And now?  Who knows?

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Contact Adam Buckman:

Check out these stories on

April 1, 2013
Clockwise from upper left: Craig Ferguson on "The Tonight Show"; J.R's funeral on "Dallas"; Lindsay Lohan and David Letterman, Howard Stern; Barbara Walters, Ted Danson on "CSI"; Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and the "View" mess; Kim Kardashian on "The Tonight Show." (Photos: NBC, TNT, Getty, CBS, ABC)

Clockwise from upper left: Craig Ferguson on “The Tonight Show”; J.R’s funeral on “Dallas”; Lindsay Lohan and David Letterman, Howard Stern; Barbara Walters, Ted Danson on “CSI”; Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and the “View” mess; Kim Kardashian on “The Tonight Show.” (Photos: NBC, TNT, Getty, CBS, ABC)


Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of television — that’s our mission, whether it be here on or here, at

And while we’ve been focusing rather narrowly on the Jay Leno-Jimmy Fallon story here on TV Howl for the last week or so, we’ve ranged a bit wider on the Xfinity site — just in case you haven’t yet formed the habit of checking out the work there.

So, in case you missed ‘em, please take a moment to check out these Xfinity posts: Leno, Ferguson Discuss Late-Night TV as Tensions Rise at NBC; TNT’s Mourning Glory: Stars Turn Out for J.R.’s ‘Dallas’ Funeral; Lindsay Lohan To Keep Date With Dave, Despite Rehab; Howard Stern Says He’s ‘Insulted’ By Talk He’ll Replace Fallon; Barbara Walters ‘Denies’ Retirement Rumors; CBS Renews ‘CSI’ for Season 14; Entire Cast Returning; TV’s Top Two Battlegrounds: What’s Next for Leno, ‘The View’; Kim Tells Leno: Media, Chelsea Handler are Bullying Her.

All that, plus — featuring my in-progress memoir “Jerk: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television.”

Contact Adam Buckman:

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Fallon in 2011: I’ll take over when Jay’s ready

March 29, 2013
Jimmy Fallon ponders the possibility of replacing Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."

Jimmy Fallon ponders the possibility of replacing Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.”


Jimmy Fallon said two years ago he’d “love” to host “The Tonight Show,” but only when Jay Leno “is ready” to hand over the reins.

Fallon said it on Ellen DeGeneres’  talk show in March 2011.  It was a time, much like the present day, when stories were circulating that NBC was grooming Fallon to take over “The Tonight Show.”

“If they offered that to you, would you go into that time slot?” Ellen asked Fallon, who first gave a less-than-serious answer.

“Letterman did [NBC's “Late Night”] and then he went to CBS,” Fallon said.  “Then Conan did [it] and he’s at TBS.  So I think if there’s a lesson to be learned, if you do this, you’re guaranteed not to host ‘The Tonight Show’!”

Turning serious, Fallon said, “Of course, I’d love to do it whenever Jay’s ready, if Jay wants to retire.”


Leno jokes: ‘Young’ Jay will replace ‘old’ Dave

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Why bring this up? Simply because it can be instructive sometimes to comb through the archives for instances where history repeats itself.  As far as I can tell, that round of stories about Fallon replacing Leno originated in December 2010 with a New York Post story that reported Fallon was even then being eyed to take over for Jay.

Granted, the stories back then were less specific than the stories circulating now that say Fallon’s “Tonight Show” takeover is, for all intents and purposes, a done deal — with Fallon set to replace Leno in summer 2014, after Jay gets a final “farewell” season starting in September.

Read our COMPLETE timeline of all of Jay’s jokes about NBC and late-night TV since March 11 — right HERE

In addition, it’s always interesting to go back to past statements — like the ones Fallon made that day on “Ellen” — to assess their relevance in light of more recent events.  Certainly, Fallon’s assertion then that he would “love” taking over “The Tonight Show” only if and when Leno is ready to retire may have been wholly sincere.

But the fact is, all the recent stories about NBC’s Fallon-Leno replacement plan (which the network has yet to confirm) indicate that Leno is not “ready” nor is he thinking about retirement.  Instead, NBC is expected to force the issue by not renewing his contract when it expires next year.

And in response, Leno’s been defiantly fighting back as only he knows how — by skewering his network with monologue jokes almost nightly for the better part of three weeks.

So, how does Fallon feel today about taking over “The Tonight Show” at a time when Leno, by all appearances, does not seem “ready” to retire?  Fallon has made no comment this time around like the ones he made on “Ellen” two years ago.


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You are cordially invited to sample the unfinished memoirs of a TV columnist: ‘Jerk: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television’ — only at, HERE


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