By ADAM BUCKMAN
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.
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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