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December 14, 2016

Looking for the latest from TV Howl’s Adam Buckman? Read his daily TV blog on MediaPost.com.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

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All My 2016 Columns on TV and Politics: Curated

October 20, 2016

political-montage-for-tv-howl-2FROM DEBATES TO CONVENTIONS, A TV BLOG AT THE NEXUS OF TV AND POLITICS … WITH MORE TO COME — LINKS BELOW

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Oct. 20, 2016 — The magic number so far: 33.

That’s how many MediaPost TV blogs I have written in 2016 as of this date, Oct. 20,  on the campaign and the candidates.

The 33 included previews and recaps of all three presidential debates (plus the VP debate on Oct. 4), morning-after commentaries on all eight evenings that comprised the Republican and Democratic national conventions last summer, and a host of other election-related topics at the nexus of politics and television.

All 33 are curated right here. Read them all with the links below. And since this story isn’t over yet, stay tuned — there’s more to come.

Oct. 20: Uncivil Warriors: Final Debate Was A Frosty Face-off

Oct. 19: Had Enough? Embattled Nation Mulls Skipping Third Debate

Oct. 17: In Presidential Puppet Campaign, The Media Pulls The Strings

Oct. 10: TV Shares Blame For This Entire Disgusting Spectacle

Oct. 7: Like Mount Everest, A TV Columnist Covers Politics Because It’s There

Oct. 5: VP Debate Postmortem: Unflappable Pence Won Against Smug Kaine

Oct. 4: VP Debate Preview: Quadrennial Battle Of The Sideshow Bobs

Sept. 30: Secretary Clinton Sees Herself In ‘Madam Secretary’

Sept. 27: Pundits Say Hillary Won, But Was Her Victory Decisive?

Sept. 26: Smell That? It’s Clinton And Trump Going Nose To Nose

Sept. 8: Postmortem On Odd Non-Debate On NBC: So Who Won?

Aug. 26: All Trump, All The Time: Watching TV With Hillary Clinton

Aug. 5: The Greatest Donald Trump Story Ever Told

Aug. 2: Rubbernecking At A Trainwreck: The Donald Brags About His Ratings

July 29: Thrilla In Phila., Day 4: The Coronation Of Hillary

July 28: Thrilla In Phila., Day 3: Dems Put The Party In ‘Political Party’

July 27: Thrilla In Phila., Day 2: Idiotic Celebrities And One Masterful Speaker

July 26: Thrilla In Phila., Day 1: Comedian Wags Finger, Lectures Democrats

July 22: Cleveland Trump Show, Day 4: Candidate Gracelessly Accepts Nomination

July 21: The Cleveland Trump Show, Day 3: As Ted Talked, GOP Lost Cruz Control

July 20: The Cleveland Trump Show, Day 2: Where’s The Showmanship?

July 19: The Cleveland Trump Show, Day 1: Making Special Effects Great Again

July 14:  As Conventions Near, Late-Night Gets Serious About Politics

July 6: Couch Potato-In-Chief: Grazing Around The Dial With Donald Trump

June 17: A TV Star Runs For President: Our Year Of Living Trumpily

June 2: Key Dates To Know As Battle For Presidency Heads Into Summer

May 19: Nobody Really Cared About Megyn Kelly’s Sit-Down With Trump

May 16: Media Should Point Finger At Itself When Explaining Trump’s Rise

May 6: Trump-Clinton Debate Will Be Battle Of The Century

April 28: TV Or Not TV: Trump Was Natural Performer Long Before ‘Apprentice’

Feb. 15: For Would-Be Presidents Day: A Couple Of Things About Trump

Jan. 28: Trump’s Absence Tests Whether Debates Can Thrive Without Him

Jan. 8: Urkelmania! How ’90s Nostalgia Could Elect Hillary

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

 

My 2015 Year in Review: The Same, Only More So

December 31, 2015
Photo by Adam Buckman

Photo by Adam Buckman

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 31, 2015 — What was your personal year in review?

It’s easy to compile lists at year’s end — the best this, the worst that: TV shows, books, movies. But it’s all so impersonal, isn’t it? Think about it: What do you care what someone else thinks was the best and worst in the past year?

The only year that really had any value was yours. What did you do? Speaking for myself, 2015 was a good year for journalism — mine, that is.

I wrote 275 columns for Television News Daily/MediaPost.com, 38 news stories and features for TVNewsCheck.com, four stories for AARP The Magazine — all on the subject of television — and one story for a neighborhood paper in Philadelphia, The Chestnut Hill Local, that was the most meaningful of all the stories I wrote this year.

It was the story of Cooperman’s Pharmacy, my grandfather’s drugstore, a fixture of its neighborhood for more than 90 years until it closed for good last spring more than 35 years after he died. Farewell.

Jessie J at the MTV upfront, April 22, 2015

Jessie J at the MTV upfront, April 22

The 275 MediaPost bylines included 27 stories from the New York “upfronts” (the TV and on-line programming presentations) stretching from February to May and ranging from Nickelodeon and MTV to Yahoo and Buzzfeed. Among the highlights: Performances by Jessie J at the MTV presentation at the Beacon — electrifying — and Ricky Martin at the Univision event at the Lyric — awesome.

Vast wasteland: TV convention, Las Vegas, April 13, 2015

Vast wasteland: TV convention, Las Vegas, April 13. Photo by Adam Buckman

The 38 TVNewsCheck stories included nine stories written in three days at all hours, including the wee-est hours of the morning, during the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention in Las Vegas in April — attendance: 100,000-plus (the two photos at the top of this blogpost and left are from that trip).

I got little sleep, ate few actual meals and walked many miles — through the vast exhibition space at the Las Vegas Convention Center in search of drone displays (which I found, and the sheer number of them was mind-boggling), down endless hotel corridors searching for meeting rooms, and on the sidewalks of Las Vegas between venues (when a cab was not convenient).

One day, as I walked from the Wynn to the Convention Center, somewhere in the vicinity of the Indoor Skydiving place, the city was hit by a rare weather phenomenon — a dust storm that kicked up the desert sand and sent it flying through the air, a glorious thing to behold (although not to ingest).

The entire experience of covering the NAB this year felt like … journalism. Unless you’ve done it, or you’re a journalist yourself, you cannot know how great it feels. I think gonzo is the word I’m looking for here …

I did six radio interviews this year — two with Geraldo Rivera on WABC, New York: one with Mark Simone and one with Len Berman and Todd Schnitt on WOR, New York; one with the great Larry Rifkin on WATR, Waterbury, Conn., and one with Brian Kilmeade on Fox News Radio.

I did three TV interviews — one on the WPIX/Ch. 11 morning show last February assessing the Super Bowl commercials (actually, we did two different segments); one on Al Jazeera America (about the Brian Williams mess at NBC) — my first time on this particular channel; and one for WNET/Ch. 13’s “MetroFocus” show about my book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television.” This interview has been posted on the Ch. 13 Web site since last spring, but it has yet to air on the actual show. Perhaps soon …

I made two public appearances this year, both courtesy of the National Geographic Channel, which enlisted me to host and moderate the two panel discussion events the network staged at the Paley Center for Media in New York.  The panels varied widely, to say the least.

The first one was the world premiere screening last July of a portion of the four-hour NatGeo documentary called “The 2000s: A New Reality,” about the first decade of the 21st century.

You can watch the whole thing here:

It was a great privilege (and the world’s biggest hoot) to conduct live, on-stage interviews with this diverse group of newsmakers from that decade: Donato Dalrymple, the south Florida resident who gained fame as the man who plucked the young Cuban refugee, 6 year-old Elian Gonzalez, from the waters near Miami in 2000; Andy Grignon, part of the development team at Apple who created the iPhone; John Keller, ex-U.S. marine who saved lives during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; Richard Hatch, famed winner of the first season of “Survivor” on CBS in summer 2000; Sherron Watkins, brave whistleblower who told the world about the Enron mess; and Jane Root, executive producer of “The 2000s.”

Nat Geo 10-29-15 aThe second one was the New York premiere screening on Oct. 29 of the NatGeo science series called “Breakthrough,” which aired over eight weeks this past fall. The panelists that night were Trish Aelker of Lockheed Martin, who directs the company’s efforts in the development of exoskeleton technology; Dr. John Dye, who fights pandemics such as ebola as the chief of the immunology branch of the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases; Dr. John Schenk, one of the original innovators of MRI technology at GE; Laura Deming, an investor who puts her money in companies involved in lengthening human life spans; Eric Fitch, an entrepreneur and pioneer in alternative energy sources; Cindy Wallis-Lage, an expert in new water-conservation technologies; and “Breakthrough” executive producer Kurt Sayenga. An amazing night.

Also in the past year, I contrived the usual boatload of ideas for stories and books that I have not yet started to write, and possibly never will.  I added many songs to my personal playlist too, including these four: “Bang Your Drum” (Dead Man Fall), “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” (The Fortunes), the theme from “Up The Down Staircase” (Fred Karlin) and “Come Softly To Me” (The Fleetwoods).  Don’t ask me why.

Ever since Letterman said good-bye last May, I haven’t been able to get Everlong by Foo Fighters out of my head either.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

My 2014 in review: Up and out of the demo at 55

December 26, 2014
Nam June Paik, "Li Tai Po" (1987) -- Robot sculpture made of television sets. Asia Society, New York, fall 2014.

Nam June Paik, “Li Tai Po” (1987) — Robot sculpture made of television sets. Asia Society, New York, fall 2014.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 26, 2014 — And now, the annual tradition that has become a yearly custom: My own personal year-in-review, 2014.

It was a year of living differently.  With no regular location for three-quarters of the year (other than this sporadic personal blog site) for the publication of my TV reportage and commentaries due to the dissolution in December 2013 of the now-sorely missed Xfinity TV Blog, I turned to free-lance writing and wound up published in a number of new places.

Bio.com took a column previewing the new half-season of “Mad Men” last spring.  Newsmax magazine published a feature story I wrote about the new wave in nostalgic TV networks (MeTV, Antenna TV and Cozi).

I did 12 stories for TVNewsCheck.com, and it felt good to be back writing for the new on-line version of the old television trade press where I got my start 30 years ago.  When writing these TVNewsCheck stories, on arcane TV-industry topics such as network-affiliate relations and audience measurement (better known as the Nielsen ratings), I was reminded of how much more difficult these stories are, compared to writing reviews of TV shows.

I had three stories accepted for publication in the largest-circulating magazine in the United States, AARP The Magazine (circ.: 22,274,096) — one story about the TV networks specializing in vintage TV shows (see Newsmax, above), one about TV spinoffs, and one about the generational shift in late-night TV stemming from Jay Leno leaving “The Tonight Show” last February and David Letterman preparing to retire next year.

AARP.  Can you believe it?  Well, we do get older every year.  And this year, I reached a particular milestone, and so did everybody else born in 1959 — we became 55, which moved us up and out of the demo.  I am referring to the 25-54 age group — one of the two most important demographic segments targeted by television networks and their advertisers (the other is 18-49s).

It’s not that the networks no longer count us (to them, eyeballs are eyeballs, whether they’re 25 or 85), but we don’t count for much where their bread and butter is concerned.

For me personally, aging out of the demo made me pause, however briefly, to wonder how I can continue covering an industry whose efforts (such as in the producing of programs) are so resolutely focused on younger people.  It quickly dawned on me that becoming 55 does not render me ineligible or unqualified to have an opinion on TV shows, no matter who they’re aimed at.

And so, I go on.  Shortly after turning 55 last September, I was offered an opportunity to once again write a daily TV column.  This morning (Dec. 26), I filed my 72nd column for the good people at MediaPost.com.

The year was not a fruitful one for celebrity interviews, though I was interviewed a handful of times — twice on TV, on Fox News Channel (“Cavuto,” Oct. 20, and “MediaBuzz,” Feb. 9 — thank you, Neil Cavuto and Howard Kurtz); 15 times on the radio, on WABC, WOR and WBBR in New York, WATR in Waterbury, Conn., KGO in San Francisco, Sirius XM in New York (thank you, Michael Smerconish); and on three podcasts — with the legendary Simon Applebaum of Brooklyn, N.Y. (“Tomorrow Will Be Televised”), the great Rick Morris of Cleveland (“The FDH Lounge”), and Kim Ward (“Chattin’ In Manhattan”).  My thanks to all of you.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 10, 2014 — 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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 4, 2014 — 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.

Previously:

The rights and wrongs of Fallon’s debut

Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight’

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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘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.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 19, 2014 — 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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Lotta people getting their heads blown off on TV

March 18, 2014

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, 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?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 18, 2014 — 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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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.”

JIMMY’S ‘ROMPER ROOM’ MENTALITY WILL RENDER ‘THE TONIGHT SHOW’ COMPLETELY UNRECOGNIZABLE

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2014 — 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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 29, 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.”

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 29, 2014 — 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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 11, 2013 — 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.

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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Who will replace Letterman? Enter Conan

April 5, 2013
Conan O'Brien on his TBS show "Conan" (Photo: TBS)

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 5, 2013 — 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!).

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 4, 2013 — 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?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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.”

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, May 29, 2013 — 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.”

Previously:

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.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

March 28, 2013
David Letterman (left) is three years older than Jay Leno.

David Letterman (left) is three years older than Jay Leno.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 28, 2013 — Jay Leno returned to joking about NBC in his “Tonight Show” monologue Wednesday night, but he reserved his best comedic “comment” on his situation for the show’s second segment.

It was the nightly comedy bit that always comes after the monologue segment.  Wednesday’s was called “What’s Trending Tomorrow” — a parody of what’s trending “today” on social media, with Jay pushing the subject forward to “tomorrow.”

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

The item about late-night TV was a great joke, and possibly the most direct comment Leno has made — comedically, of course — about the rumors swirling around him that he’ll be replaced next year.  While most of the jibes he’s delivered since March 11 about the late-night situation and NBC’s struggle for prime-time ratings have fallen just short of including the key details, this was the first time he has mentioned the name of the man who will likely replace him, Jimmy Fallon.  Leno also mentioned David Letterman, who was a key part of the punchline.

In the bit, Jay said: “Trending right now … Jay Leno beset by rumors he’s being replaced by a younger host [a picture of Jimmy Fallon was then shown on a screen behind Jay].  Trending tomorrow … David Letterman also being replaced by a younger host …  [then a photo of Leno himself was shown].  Yeah!  Yeah! There you go!” Leno said.  “I like that one!  That was a fun one.”

He was right — it was a fun one.  For the record, Fallon is 38, Leno is 62 and Letterman is 65 (Leno and Letterman will be 63 and 66, respectively, next month).

Previously: Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Leno opened his Wednesday monologue with an NBC joke — the first one he delivered since last Friday (after abstaining from the NBC jibes on Monday and Tuesday of this week).

“Folks, oh, my God, listen to this,” Leno said.  “Monday night the [NBC] prime-time shows ‘The Voice’ and ‘Revolution’ moved NBC into the No. 2 position.  You know what that means?  No. 2 — between Easter and Passover, this is truly the season of miracles!  We’re No. 2!  We’re No. 2!  Amazing! …  And I’ve been saying that for the last week, that NBC is a big No. 2!  Haven’t I been saying that?  Congratulations!”

A few minutes later, Jay delivered a second NBC joke, this one referring to the sanctity of contracts: “Speaking of T-Mobile,” he said (following a joke about a prison inmate who tried to smuggle a cellphone into a California prison for Charlie Manson), “they announced yesterday they are doing away with contracts.  So apparently they got the idea from NBC!  I’m not sure how that works!”

Of course, no rumor has yet suggested that NBC seeks to break or otherwise “do away” with Leno’s contract.  The reports have said only that he’s not likely to get a new contract when his current one expires in 2014 — which is when he would then be replaced by Fallon.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

March 22, 2013
Tale of two cities: NBC's Burbank headquarters (top), home of Jay Leno; and (bottom) NBC Studios in New York, home base for Jimmy Fallon.

Tale of two cities: NBC’s Burbank headquarters (top), home of Jay Leno; and (bottom) NBC Studios in New York, home base for Jimmy Fallon.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 22, 2013 — Moving “The Tonight Show” to New York would be a huge mistake.

Why?  Because it will instantly rob the show of the one advantage it has been able to count on for decades as the No. 1 show in late-night: First dibs on Los Angeles-based guests.  And since L.A. is where 90 percent of the nation’s top movie, TV and music stars live and work, it stands to reason that a show like “The Tonight Show” would want to preserve that access.

But no.  Reports this week have NBC ramping up the construction of a new studio within its 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York that would be the new home of “The Tonight Show” hosted by Jimmy Fallon.  The move would uproot the show from southern California, where it has reigned as the top-rated show in late-night for the better part of 41 years.

Even worse, NBC would be voluntarily ceding its hard-won top position in the L.A. booking wars to the one guy whose move to an earlier time period has given NBC and its executives so much angst in the first place, Jimmy Kimmel.

When or if “The Tonight Show” moves to New York, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” will instantly become the first choice for L.A.-based celebrities and their publicity handlers — easily out-booking Craig Ferguson on CBS and Conan O’Brien on TBS.  Meanwhile, in New York, the new Fallon “Tonight Show” will be competing for guests — always a more-limited pool of them in New York, compared to L.A. — with David Letterman.

A TVHowl exclusive: Read every NBC joke Jay has delivered since his current war with the network began March 11 — our complete timeline HERE

And unless Fallon can maintain “The Tonight Show’s” top position in the ratings, Letterman will be first in line for top celebrities when they’re in New York.  Can you imagine?  Guests will appear on “Letterman” on CBS, and then, the next evening, they’ll be on Fallon’s “Tonight Show” — signaling to anyone who watches late-night TV that NBC is no longer in the driver’s seat.

In fact, that scenario is what happens now with A-list guests in New York — they go on “Letterman” first and then show up the next day on Fallon’s “Late Night.”  So how will “The Tonight Show” benefit from playing second fiddle to Letterman?  The answer: It won’t.

So why is NBC considering this move in the first place?  I suspect it has to do with issues of internal management combined with a dash of wishful thinking.

Network executives might feel the consolidation of NBC’s three big late-night shows — “Tonight,” “Late Night” and “Saturday Night Live”– under one roof will somehow bring all three shows into some kind of hoped-for creative uniformity based somewhat on the successful “SNL” model.  Fallon’s “Late Night” is heavy on “SNL”-type sketch comedy and it is assumed that it will continue in that vein with probable new host Seth Meyers.  The aim would then be to transform “The Tonight Show” into the same kind of show — all under overseer Lorne Michaels, of course.

Michaels would probably relish the opportunity to assume control of “The Tonight Show.”  He may even feel he deserves it, because of all he has contributed to NBC’s success in late-night over the years.  He wouldn’t be entirely wrong there, and NBC might be willing to reward his loyalty,  hard work, and talent for generating profits with this new trophy.  In addition, NBC might feel that the “SNL” approach is only possible in New York for some reason.

Moreover, the last time they moved a New York guy to L.A. — Conan — it didn’t work out.  So maybe they’re reluctant to send another New York guy to the West Coast.  Or maybe Fallon is dead set against moving to California (although I doubt this).  Whatever is going on behind the scenes at 30 Rock, none of it seems compelling enough to propel moving “The Tonight Show” to New York.

The wishful thinking part is this: That when it comes to booking guests, so many of them come to New York on their publicity tours for new projects that there are more than enough A-level celebrities running around midtown at any given time that there’s no longer a shortage of them these days for the New York-based late-night shows.

Why is that thinking “wishful”?  Because it’s not true.  Despite all the talk shows here, and all the celebs that parachute in to make the talk-show rounds, there are never enough to go around — which creates “slack” times when talk shows struggle for top guests.

This is a truism that cannot be wished away.  It’s also a truism that one of the advantages “The Tonight Show” has enjoyed for 41 years has been its position at the pinnacle of the Hollywood establishment — first with Carson and then with Leno, who’s a Hollywood/Beverly Hills insider if there ever was one.

The reasons NBC has for moving “The Tonight Show” to New York City would seem to have everything to do with internal network politics, and nearly nothing to do with benefiting the show and ensuring its future as TV’s top-rated late-night show.

Of course, will someone please explain to me why NBC is monkeying around with this show in the first place, when so many other issues — most notably, prime time and mornings — would seem to demand the majority of the company’s attention at this time?

In the final analysis, moving the show back to New York after 41 years of success and warm-weather comfort in southern California makes about as much sense as bringing the Dodgers back to Brooklyn.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

March 20, 2013
Jay Leno (Photo: NBC)

Jay Leno (Photo: NBC)

HE’S BEEN HAMMERING THE NETWORK SINCE MARCH 11

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 20, 2013 — While other Web sites are just beginning now to cover the story of Jay Leno’s war on NBC, I’ve been following it ever since it first began on March 11.

That was the day — a Monday — that Leno and “The Tonight Show” returned from a week off.  As a result, it was Leno’s first opportunity to comment on a story that broke 10 days earlier, at the very beginning of the show’s one-week hiatus — that NBC was close to having a plan in place to replace Leno with Jimmy Fallon in summer 2014.

The story from The Hollywood Reporter broke on the evening of Friday, March 1, after that evening’s “Tonight Show” had been taped and the show’s writers and producers had decamped for their one-week break.

Leno made no public comments about the story during the week the show was dark — March 4-8 — but on that very first night back on March 11, he expressed his displeasure with the story as only he can — in his “Tonight Show” monologue.  It’s a familiar pattern with Leno: He doesn’t comment directly on the situation in his jokes and comments, but the message isn’t lost on his audience, who knows exactly what he’s talking about — and Jay knows it.

Since no one else has covered this story as completely as I have, here’s a complete timeline of Leno’s jokes and comments about NBC since March 11, through Friday, March 22.

Monday, March 11

Two monologue jokes dealt directly with the replacement story (but without mentioning the story specifically), starting with: “You all look surprised to see me!  I’m shocked!”  (He was reacting to the standing ovation he received from the studio audience when he came on stage.)

Then, later in the monologue, he said: “According to a survey, 12 percent of workers admit to having sex at work. Now, I myself have never had sex at work. I’ve been screwed by my employer, but I have never, never, never had sex!”

A third monologue joke poked fun at NBC’s ongoing struggle in the prime-time ratings race, which has it ranked fifth among all major networks — ranking behind even Spanish-language Univision.  “Right before he died, [late Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez did have some last words,” Jay said. “He said he was just happy he lived long enough to see Univision beat NBC!”

Tuesday, March 12

This monologue had two jokes that were even more pointed than the ones Leno delivered the evening before: “You know, we were on vacation last week,” he said, opening Tuesday’s monologue (after taking the stage for a second consecutive standing ovation).  “And when I came back yesterday, NBC had really beefed up security. Yet, despite that, I was still able to get on the lot!”

The second joke that evening, this one having to do with the resignation of Pope Benedict: “And of course rumors are flying at the Vatican,” Leno said. “The latest one, according to the Italian press, is that Pope Benedict did not retire. They say he was forced out by NBC!”

Friday, March 15

For some reason, Leno let the subject rest on March 13 and 14.  But on  Friday, March 15, he was back at it, for reasons related first to the day’s date, and also to one of the evening’s guests, fellow late-night host Craig Ferguson of CBS.  Here’s the monologue joke Leno delivered that evening: “You know what today is?” Today [March 15] is the Ides of March. This is when Julius Caesar was stabbed in the back by the people he trusted. Not a good day to be working at NBC!”

Then, later, Leno and Ferguson (who hosts “Late Late Show” on CBS) had this exchange, in which Leno expressed his frustration with NBC executives:

“I don’t know what your relationship is like with NBC,” Ferguson said, after Leno asked Craig how it’s going at CBS.

“I have a very good relationship with CBS and I know you have a very good relationship with NBC,” said Ferguson, who obviously knew that wasn’t true. “But I do like the feeling of being able to go and do standup [comedy] just in case anything goes wrong and I have to earn a living outside of the world of [late-night TV] …”

“That’s true because when you do this show you don’t really know how you’re doing,” Leno said.  “You get notes like this [Jay picks up a blue note card and reads], um, ‘You’re not doing well with immature boys between 11 and 14, so if you could do something … ’ So you don’t really know!”

By contrast, Leno said of his outside standup work, “When you go out on the road, they laugh, you get your check, you move on. You don’t get the network notes.”

“Yeah, you’re autonomous,” Ferguson said.

Then, on the evening of March 15, at around the same time that “The Tonight Show” was being taped on the West Coast, the New York Times posted a story on its Web site that said Leno had clashed recently with the head of NBC programming, Robert Greenblatt, who was reportedly unhappy with the many jokes Leno had been doing the last few weeks about NBC’s ratings woes.

Monday, March 18

So, on Monday, March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, came a monologue joke that played like a reaction to the Greenblatt story: “You know the whole legend of St. Patrick, right?  St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland — and then they came to the United States and became NBC executives. It’s a fascinating story!”

Tuesday, March 19

Then, on Tuesday, March 19, came this joke referring to NBC’s ratings struggle: “Did you hear about this?  A 28-year-old woman from Serbia has a rare brain condition where she sees everything upside down.  The good news? She’s now been given a job at the White House as President Obama’s economic adviser!”

And here’s the part about NBC: “Isn’t that crazy? It’s unbelievable. She sees everything upside down. In fact, she thinks NBC is at the top of the ratings!”

Then, in a comedy bit titled “Midseason Replacements” — in which Leno presented brief “trailers” for fictional midseason shows — Leno made another reference to NBC’s low ratings.  It was just after he showed a “clip” from a show called “Mourning Wood,” about a man named Wood whose wife had just died:  “I think NBC’s got a hit on its hands with that one.  I think that’s gonna be our turnaround show!”

Wednesday, March 20

In this monologue joke, Leno likened NBC to the dinosaurs of the Jurassic era: “This is kind of scary.  Scientists say they’re getting closer and closer to being able to do ‘Jurassic Park’-style cloning of extinct species.  Imagine that? Things that were once thought to be extinct could now be brought back from the dead, so there’s hope for NBC!  It could turn around!”

Thursday, March 21

Leno opened his monologue with this joke: “You all excited about March Madness?  You into March Madness?  People talk about who’s in, who’s out, who’s gonna be eliminated …  and that’s just here at NBC!  Wow, I have never been in the paper this much!  It’s fantastic!”

Friday, March 22

Jay dropped two NBC jokes into the middle of his monologue.  In fact, when he began reciting the set-up for this first one, I sensed an NBC joke on the way as soon as he began talking about a knife blade stuck in a man’s back: “Doctors in Canada were shocked after pulling a three-inch knife blade from the back of a 32 year-old man,” Leno said.  “The knife had been in there for three years.  Imagine that, the guy had a knife in his back for three years.  He must have worked at NBC too!  I couldn’t believe that!  I was stunned by that!”

In his second joke, Jay acknowledged that he had dinner with NBC executives Thursday night (including Robert Greenblatt, according to reports — the network programming boss who complained about Jay’s NBC jokes) in an effort to smooth out their differences:  “Now, have you heard about this alleged feud that I’m having with NBC?  I think it’s going to be OK.  This is real: I had dinner last night with a bunch of NBC executives.  To make it up to me, what they did, they are sending my wife and I on an all-expenses paid Carnival Cruise!  How about that?  So it looks like it’s going to be OK!  Fantastic!”

Wednesday, March 27

After taking a break from the NBC jokes for two days — Monday, March 25, and Tuesday, March 26 — Leno returned to the subject Wednesday night with two monologue jokes plus an additional joke included in the evening’s comedy segment.

The first monologue joke: “Folks, oh, my God, listen to this,” Leno said.  “Monday night the [NBC] prime-time shows ‘The Voice’ and ‘Revolution’ moved NBC into the No. 2 position.  You know what that means?  No. 2 — between Easter and Passover, this is truly the season of miracles!  We’re No. 2!  We’re No. 2!  Amazing! …  And I’ve been saying that for the last week, that NBC is a big No. 2!  Haven’t I been saying that?  Congratulations!”

The second monologue joke, delivered a few minutes later: “Speaking of T-Mobile,” he said (following a joke about a prison inmate who tried to smuggle a cellphone into a California prison for Charlie Manson), “they announced yesterday they are doing away with contracts.  So apparently they got the idea from NBC!  I’m not sure how that works!”

Here’s the bit he did in the evening’s comedy segment in which he joked that David Letterman is even older than him.  The bit was called “What’s Trending Tomorrow,” and it was a parody of what’s trending “today” on social media, with Jay pushing the subject forward to “tomorrow”: “Trending right now,” Leno said.  “Jay Leno beset by rumors he’s being replaced by a younger host [a picture of Jimmy Fallon was then shown on a screen behind Jay].  Trending tomorrow … David Letterman also being replaced by a younger host …  [then a photo of Leno himself was shown]!  Yeah!  Yeah! There you go!” Leno said.  “I like that one!  that was a fun one.”

Thursday, March 28

Only one joke on this show — a monologue joke that referred to the way Jay perceives he’s being covered in the media: “Paleontologists in Germany say a 30-foot dinosaur called the ankylosaurus probably had a six-foot long penis.  A six-foot long penis.  Now I understand what the critics are talking about when they call me a dinosaur!  This is what they …  It was actually a compliment!”

Monday, April 1

Two monologue jokes, starting with: “Before we get started,” Leno said, “let me say that NBC and I have reached a peaceful, amicable agreement that will be beneficial to both sides … April Fools! It will never happen!”

Then, later: “Well, during his meeting with [new Pontiff] Pope Francis last week, Pope Benedict, the outgoing Pope, said that he would spend his retirement hidden from the world … unless of course he gets a better offer from the Fox Network! Then he might move!”

And the show ended with that much talked-about duet between Leno and Jimmy Fallon — sung to the tune of “Tonight” from “West Side Story.”

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Huge trap that could snare Kimmel: His big mouth

January 8, 2013

ON EVE OF TIME-SLOT SWITCH, JIMMY’S ACTING LIKE A JERK

Jimmy Kimmel with sidekick Guillermo Diaz on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." (Photo: ABC)

Jimmy Kimmel with sidekick Guillermo Diaz on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” (Photo: ABC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 8, 2013 — Nobody likes a big mouth.

And suddenly, Jimmy Kimmel has grown the biggest mouth in show business.

And he’s been shooting it off at just the wrong time too — just when he’s on the verge of a high-profile switch to an earlier time slot where he (and more importantly, ABC) hopes to win new fans.

For some reason, Kimmel has adopted a bizarre strategy for his assault on the 11:35 p.m. hour that consists of two parts that are diametrically opposed.

One part seems to be: Attack Jay Leno without mercy.

And the other part is: Kiss up to David Letterman — also without mercy.

The problem is: Both tactics are tanking.

Kimmel’s attacks on Leno — who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from a standup-comedy style that Kimmel apparently doesn’t care for — make Kimmel seem like a jerk.  It’s doubtful his attacks will persuade anyone to ditch the “Leno” show in favor of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

And his kissing up to Letterman has only succeeded in making Letterman squirm every time he encounters him.

Ever since last summer, Kimmel’s been on an anti-Leno tear, starting with the f-bomb he dropped in August at the mere mention of Leno’s name during a public appearance in New York.  Then there have been all the subsequent instances — particularly in recent weeks — when Kimmel seemed to go out of his way to tell interviewers that he dislikes Leno, disrespects Leno’s comedy, and derisively compares Leno to “Jason,” the unkillable psycho-killer from the “Friday the 13th” movies.

CLASS-LESS ACT: Cheeky Jimmy Kimmel, on the cover of Rolling Stone, positions himself to compete with Leno and Letterman.

On the cover of Rolling Stone, cheeky Jimmy Kimmel positions himself to compete with Leno and Letterman.

In his most recent attack, in the cover-story interview he gave Rolling Stone magazine, Kimmel inexplicably accused Leno of “selling out,” and boldly declared that Leno hasn’t “been a good stand-up in 20 years.”  Selling out?  The only things Leno seems to sell out are clubs, casino venues, theaters and playhouses across the United States.   As for Leno’s abilities as a stand-up, the 3.3 million people who watch his monologues every night on “The Tonight Show” — as well as those who buy all the tickets to see him perform — would seem to disagree with Kimmel.

As a matter of fact, Kimmel’s boyhood (and, apparently, adulthood) idol David Letterman disagrees with Kimmel too.  Letterman told Oprah Winfrey in the interview that just aired last weekend on OWN that Jay Leno is “the funniest guy” that Letterman has ever known.  “Just flat out,” Letterman stated unequivocally in the Oprah interview, “if you go to see [Leno] do his night club act, [he’s] just the funniest, the smartest — wonderful observations — and very appealing as a comic.”

What does Letterman think of Kimmel?  “He’s a nice kid,” Letterman answered condescendingly when Charlie Rose asked him about Kimmel in the interview they did last month.  A “nice kid”?  If that wasn’t an outright dismissive assessment of Kimmel, then it was at least a sign that Letterman hasn’t spent more than 30 seconds thinking about Kimmel in his entire life.

Letterman acknowledged that “nice kid” Kimmel has been nice to him.  “[He’s] been very gracious to me to the point where it’s made me self-conscious,” Letterman told Rose.

Indeed, Kimmel’s gushing over Letterman made Dave visibly uncomfortable when Letterman was Kimmel’s guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in October in Brooklyn.  Then, when Kimmel saluted Letterman at “The Kennedy Center Honors” in Washington last month — with his stories about his adolescent worship of Letterman — a CBS camera caught Dave grimacing.

As for Kimmel’s intense dislike of Leno, the world is still waiting to hear a credible answer to a key question: Why?  I asked Kimmel that question in a conference call last month and you know what his answer was?  He didn’t like the way Jay won “The Tonight Show” back in ’92, beating out Kimmel’s idol — Letterman — for the job.

Here’s what Kimmel said that day: “For me, when the book ‘The Late Shift’ came out [New York Times reporter Bill Carter’s 1994 book about Leno and Letterman’s battle to succeed Johnny Carson], I realized that Jay had schemed to take something from someone that I admired.  I mean, that’s what did it for me, I guess.”

To which I wish I would have said: Jimmy, you’ve got to be kidding me.  What do you care about the battle over the “Carson” show when even Jay and Dave have put it behind them?  It’s old news.

The bottom line is this: The “Kimmel” show still lags far behind Jay and Dave in the ratings.  For the fourth quarter of 2012, the average nightly viewership for each of them was: Leno, 3.5 million; Letterman, 3.1 million; and Kimmel, 1.9 million.

On Tuesday night, Kimmel joins the 11:35 battle against two guys who have been doing it a lot longer than he has.  At its very foundation, the battle is about likability.  But Kimmel — with his attacks on Leno and his sophomoric brown-nosing of Letterman — is looking very unlikable at the very moment when he desperately needs to be liked.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com


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