Archive for the ‘Adam Buckman’ Category

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December 14, 2016

Adam Buckman 1Looking for the latest from TV Howl’s Adam Buckman? Read his daily TV blog on

ALSO: Read his book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” the candid confessions of a cranky critic. Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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All My 2016 Columns on TV and Politics: Curated

October 20, 2016



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:

Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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TV Howl Extra: My Interview With Irritable Al

July 27, 2016
Sen. Al Franken speaking at the Democratic National Convention Monday (July 25) in Philadelphia.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) speaking at the Democratic National Convention Monday (July 25) in Philadelphia.

‘He had a voice like a cartoon frog’ — book excerpt, below, from JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television by Adam Buckman


NEW YORK, July 27, 2016 — Former TV comedian Al Franken made a splash Monday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, delivering a speech ripping Trump University and then appearing with Bernie Sanders supporter Sarah Silverman in an attempt to unify the Democratic Party behind nominee Hillary Clinton.

But many of us on the TV beat remember Franken before he was a senator, when he was just another comedy writer, a “Saturday Night Live” veteran, trying to make a living in the TV comedy biz.

This is the story of one of those efforts, an NBC comedy series called “Lateline,” and what Franken had to say to me in an interview the day after the show was cancelled in 1999. This story is excerpted from my book called “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” available on Amazon:


Part I

Another comedian who agreed to get on the phone to talk about the cancellation of his own show was Al Franken, who also wound up casting the blame on someone else – in his case, NBC.

Read “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman: Order your copy today — right HERE!

Franken’s show was a sitcom called “Lateline,” a newsroom spoof in which he starred as a gung-ho but bumbling correspondent for a late-night news show modeled loosely on ABC’s “Nightline.”  NBC had just given it the axe and Franken had an axe to grind.  This was another instance in which I believed I had no chance of getting the star of a cancelled show (who in this case also happened to be the show’s creator and executive producer) on the phone to tell me why he thought his show was cancelled and how he felt about it.

But I put in the request anyway and, incredibly, an NBC publicist put Franken on the phone for me, even though Franken was furious about the cancellation and in no frame of mind to do an interview that would spare NBC’s feelings.  Instead, he unloaded on the network and the then-president of NBC’s entertainment division, Scott Sassa.

Al Franken in "Lateline."

Al Franken in “Lateline.”

“We made good shows,” Franken said calmly, sounding a little weary, at the outset of our conversation.  “I think NBC did a bad job in presenting it to the public,” he said, referring to the way “Lateline” had been scheduled.  The show had had a short, uneven history, premiering in March 1998 for just six weeks and then going away for a year.  It returned in March 1999 for a planned run of six more episodes, but five of them never aired after NBC cancelled the series the morning after the first one attracted one of the smallest audiences ever recorded by the network on a Tuesday night up to that time – 6.7 million viewers.

I then asked Franken about Sassa and whether the NBC president had called him personally to give him the bad news.  The question apparently hit a sore spot and Franken turned peevish.  No, Franken answered, Sassa did not call him.  “It would have been nice for Sassa to call me,” said Franken, who then basically called the head of NBC a liar.

At issue was a “promise” Franken insisted Sassa had made to him about NBC’s commitment to “Lateline.”  “I felt cold-cocked. … [He] promised me six shows,” said Franken, who characterized Sassa’s “promise” as “an explicit guarantee” that “Lateline” would have a run of six episodes to get on its feet.

“[Sassa] didn’t explain why he felt ethically that you can promise six and then pull [a show off the air] after one,” Franken complained.  (For his part, Sassa declined a request for an interview with me then, but an NBC spokeswoman denied Sassa had promised Franken anything.)

Franken then noted that it was unfortunate for the television production industry in New York for “Lateline” to be cancelled because it was one of only a handful of situation-comedies then being produced in New York City.  He then unloaded on me when it became apparent that I could not recall in that instant which other sitcoms were produced in New York.  As a result of this shortcoming, Franken basically called me an idiot who lacked the qualifications he felt were necessary for writing about television, though to my knowledge, the job of covering television as a journalist was one that Franken had never held.  I tried to explain to him that the identities of the other made-in-New York sitcoms (they turned out to be “Cosby” on CBS and “Spin City” on ABC) were irrelevant to our story.  And if they were relevant, I told him, then I would endeavor to report them correctly before the story got into print.

It wasn’t the first time I found myself explaining to someone that I wasn’t a walking, talking encyclopedia of television, that it was not important for me to know every little thing about television when conducting an interview such as this one.  The main concern for me, as with any journalist, was not necessarily to have every fact correct when you are interviewing a newsmaker and researching a story, though it certainly couldn’t hurt.  What mattered much more was getting it right by the time it appeared in the paper.  And I assured Franken it would be, though by this time, he had had enough of me and I had had enough of him.  After we hung up, I concluded that either Franken was having a bad day or he was basically an asshole.  I figured it was a little bit of both.

The story, headlined “Franken burns NBC bridge,” published on March 22, 1999, in the New York Post, was a great story for me, though I never learned how Franken felt about it.  However, I developed such a visceral dislike for him in the aftermath of that interview that I welcomed the occasional opportunities that arose later to take additional swipes at him.

Al Franken Parkay commercial.

Al Franken Parkay commercial.

One was an item I didn’t really have to write later that year, though I wrote it anyway.  “Former sitcom star Al Franken has landed on his feet – you can see him shoveling a forkful of steaming hot baked potato into his mouth in a commercial for Parkay margarine,” I reported on Oct. 25, in an attempt to write an item that would portray Franken as a has-been whose career had seen better days, but was now reduced to hawking margarine.

Franken went on to host a radio show on Air America, the short-lived liberal radio network.  When a condensed, one-hour version of the radio show, shot in the Air America studios on videotape, began airing in 2004 on the Sundance cable channel, I took up the cudgel again to describe him in a review as having “a voice like a cartoon frog.”  I also accused him of exhibiting posture unbefitting the profession of broadcasting, taking pains to write that Franken “slouches over his microphone like he has no spine” (my intention being to imply subtly that Franken lacked backbone, though I doubt anyone who read it ever caught this implication).  I never learned Franken’s reaction to this column either (if he ever even had a reaction), but he had backbone enough to run for the U.S. Senate in 2008, representing Minnesota.

[Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman. Copyright Adam Buckman 2014 All Rights Reserved.]

Contact Adam Buckman:

Want more great stories from the TV beat? Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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Hey, Now! A Treasury Of Garry Shandling Stories

March 28, 2016
Garry Shandling was proud of this headline and review of "The Larry Sanders Show" in The New York Post TV section. This picture ran in The Post on May 30, 1998.

Garry Shandling was proud of this headline and review of “The Larry Sanders Show” by Michele Greppi in The New York Post TV section. This picture ran in The Post on May 30, 1998. Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald



NEW YORK, March 28, 2016 — I did not know Garry Shandling at all, but he figured into a couple of personal stories.

One was an interview I conducted with him over the phone some time in the 1990s when he was about to host the annual CableACE Awards. “ACE” meant “Award for Cable Excellence.” This was the cable industry’s answer to the Emmys back in the era when the Emmys used to shun TV shows made for cable.

My interview with Shandling does not survive – neither the audiotape nor the published story. For me, what was noteworthy about the story was that it enabled my long-deceased grandfather to earn a byline in TV Guide. The reason for this was because I had taken on this assignment as some sort of a writing test for a job at TV Guide at a time when I was working as the TV editor for the New York Post and didn’t want The Post to know I was applying for a job elsewhere.

So the TV Guide editor allowed me to pick a pseudonym for the byline and I chose the name of my maternal grandfather, Daniel Cooperman, who had been a lifelong pharmacist and, to my knowledge, never read TV Guide. He was a great guy and I was glad to get him a byline in what was at that time one of the highest-circulating magazines on Earth.

As for the interview with Shandling, I cannot re-create any of our conversation, but I remember that it was a terrible interview. On the phone from L.A., he was dour and combative, and gave the impression that he would have preferred to be doing just about anything else at that moment except be interviewed.

For me, it was the first of several such interviews with comedians in those days that eventually made me swear off interviewing comedians altogether – a self-imposed ban that I honored for nearly 10 years. I concluded from this handful of interviews that comedians – the people who make us laugh – are, generally speaking, unhappy people. Either they see interviews as opportunities to exercise their uncontrollable compulsion for spouting wisecracks, or if they are not in the mood for that, they just give answers that reveal they couldn’t care less about being interviewed. P.S. I didn’t get the TV Guide job.

I was nevertheless an admirer of Garry Shandling’s work, and I was well-aware of the attention that was being paid to “The Larry Sanders Show,” his HBO series about late-night TV. So some time in 1993, one of our TV reporters at The Post, Michele Greppi, interviewed Shandling about the show, and I put the story on the day’s list of stories we planned on publishing in the TV section the next day. And off I went to the morning editorial meeting in the editor-in-chief’s office.

On this particular day, we had a visitor who I had never encountered before at a morning news meeting – The Post’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch. This was back in the days when HBO was not nearly the juggernaut it eventually became, and its audience (i.e. subscribership) paled in comparison to the major broadcast networks. Moreover, cable TV itself was still relatively new to vast swaths of the New York metropolitan area. Indeed, in the Queens neighborhood where I then lived, we didn’t get cable TV until something like 1989.

Mr. Murdoch said little or nothing while other editors recited their news lists. But perhaps because he was interested generally in TV, he decided to weigh in on mine. In his Australian accent, he questioned the value of slotting a story about this HBO series into the next day’s paper because, in his view, the show’s audience, and HBO’s distribution, was too miniscule to justify taking up space with it.

Somehow I came up with an answer. Recovering from the initial shock of being addressed by Rupert Murdoch, I told him that I understood his concerns. But I assured him that stories about HBO were relatively rare in the Post TV section – in proportion, I surmised, to the channel’s relatively small audience at the time.

I also added that as TV editor, I liked to pay particular attention to TV shows that were about television, and “The Larry Sanders Show” — which was about a fictional late-night show — was certainly a stellar example of this, and on that basis alone, would hopefully be of interest to readers of our TV section. Mr. Murdoch seemed OK with this explanation and the story stayed.

In the early summer of 1992, I attended a taping of the then-new “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” at NBC Studios in Burbank. Shandling was one of the guests that day. In those days, Leno was still trying to find his footing on the show and in a conversation he and I had backstage after the show, he fretted that he hadn’t been funny. Incredibly, I found myself in the unexpected position of having to assure Jay Leno that he had been funny, and that he shouldn’t worry about it.

As far as I can remember, I did not meet Shandling, but my impression after the show was that he got the best of Leno during their segments together, and I even formed the impression that Shandling was working hard to do so. I don’t truthfully recall if Leno was funny or not, but Shandling was.

On a Friday afternoon in May 1998, a Post photographer was trolling for celebrities on Madison Avenue when he ran into Garry Shandling at an outdoor café having lunch with Jeff Bewkes, then the chairman and CEO of HBO. Shandling was in the midst of reading the Post’s TV section, which that day ran a five-star review by Michele Greppi of the final-season premiere of “The Larry Sanders Show.”

The photographer, Lawrence Schwartzwald, asked Shandling to hold up the TV page, which featured a banner headline that read, “One last ‘Hey, now!’ for ‘Larry Sanders’.”

Garry, who was apparently more cooperative that day than he had been when I interviewed him some years before, gladly complied. This photo of Garry Shandling, smiling and apparently self-satisfied by the coverage that day, appeared in the next day’s TV section, Saturday, May 30, 1998.  In fact, I put it there.

Shandling, who died last Thursday at age 66, left a very long and valuable legacy on TV as a “Carson” show guest and frequent guest host, as the star of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” in the early years of the Fox network. and then as the star and creative force behind “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO.

For a time, Garry Shandling was omnipresent on TV, which explains why he recurs in these unrelated and, truth be told, beside-the-point stories from my own career on the TV beat. Hey, now.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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David Bowie, ‘Heroes’ and a Newspaper Rebellion

January 11, 2016

Heroes David BowieBy ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 11, 2016 — In March 1993, I was present at a newspaper insurrection.

It probably still stands as the most notorious staff uprising in modern newspaper history.

And in the chaos of the turmoil’s climactic week, I found I couldn’t shake David Bowie’s song “Heroes” from my head – a phenomenon described today as an “earworm.”

As the drama of that week enveloped us all, I felt like I was in the company of heroes – these New York Post editors and reporters who felt obligated to fight back against uncaring, belligerent owners even though the odds of victory were very long.

The “heroes” label was not my creation. We were being lauded in other media that week for the brash stance we had taken, which reached its apogee on Tuesday, March 16, 1993. That was the day we published an edition made up almost entirely of stories and editorials blasting our then-owners, a New York parking lot magnate and notorious eccentric named Abe Hirschfeld, and a publisher from Harlem named Wilbert Tatum.

930316NYPost-cvrThe cover of that day’s edition was an enlargement of the picture of Alexander Hamilton, the Post’s founder in 1801, that used to be placed every day in one of the upper corners of the paper’s front pages. This time, he took up the entire page, with a dramatic teardrop placed just under the corner of his right eye.

I first laid eyes on this front page on a staircase as it was being delivered to the composing room on Monday evening.  Other than an elevator that was so slow no one could be bothered to wait for it just to travel to the floor above, this staircase in the old Post building at 210 South Street was the only other route between the fourth and fifth floors, and it was heavily traveled by editors going back and forth between the Post’s newsroom and the composing room, where printers pasted up the pages. As TV editor at the Post in those days, I used to go up and down these stairs about 20 times a night for close to five years.

On this particular evening, I ran into one of the Post’s editors about mid-flight – Tommy Ko – who held a rolled-up object in one hand that I took to be surreptitious, since this wasn’t the way Tommy had traditionally transported pages upstairs.

So I called him on it. I asked him what it was, and may have even guessed it was the front page for the next day’s edition. Citing a need for secrecy, he was reluctant to show it to me.

For the better part of an entire day, all of us had been engaged in putting together an entire issue of the paper blasting our owners.  The Post newsroom was on the fourth floor, just two floors below the executive offices on the sixth — which meant we were undertaking this rebellion virtually under the very noses of our owners.  Now it was close to press time and they were still clueless, and would remain so until the edition was published and on the street.

On the staircase, I pressed Tommy to unroll the page and I saw it for the first time. It was a glorious thing to behold and I was excited and anxious about the impact it would have when it hit newsstands late that evening and the next morning.

Among other things, this edition had a story on page three with the headline “WHO IS THIS NUT?” in something like 120-point type over a picture of Hirschfeld. There was also a story on the page about an incident at a Miami airport some time previously in which Hirschfeld was filmed by a local TV station in the act of spitting on a reporter. The spitting picture, a screen grab, was my one and only contribution to this edition of the Post. I had secured it from a source at CBS, which owned the Miami station whose news crew had filmed it.

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,’ Dylan Thomas advised, and reporters and editors of The New York Post have taken the poet at his word,” said the New York Times in an editorial published the next day, on March 17. “Hemorrhaging red ink and on the brink of extinction, The Post hit the streets yesterday with a pungent, brassy issue that illustrated just what the city would lose if the paper shuts down. …

“Only The New York Post would publish an issue skewering its own boss. … In irreverence lies The Post’s charm, and a serious point: Money may be able to buy a newspaper’s real estate, computers and presses, but its soul belongs to the people who report, write and edit [it].”

In the midst of the tumult, David Bowie’s “Heroes” lodged in my brain, with its lyrics, “We can beat them, just for one day. We can be heroes, just for one day …” In my head, I was romanticizing the experience we were all having, perhaps as a counterpoint to the seriousness of the situation. We were all in danger of losing our jobs — and a whole lot more too — if the Post went down the tubes, which was where it seemed headed.

At around midday on one of the days of that week, I called a local radio station and requested that they play “Heroes” and dedicate it to the heroes of The New York Post. The station was WXRK, the one known as “K-Rock,” at 92.3 FM, because I knew someone who worked there.

Pete Fornatale played the song and my dedication, which I never heard since I didn’t possess a radio at the office. Many years later, after I had long forgotten it, Pete confirmed in a conversation that he played it that day. He remembered it, even if I did not.

Pete died in 2012. David Bowie died today in the wee hours of the morning. He left a catalogue of unforgettable hit songs and thousands, if not millions, of people each with their own memories.

P.S. The Post survived.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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My Year On The TV Beat: The Same, Only More So

December 31, 2015
Photo by Adam Buckman

Photo 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/, 38 news stories and features for, 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.

adam-buckman-and-friend, New York, 12-14-15Of all the events of the past year, none could equal the reunion I had earlier this month (on Dec. 14) with this guy (the one in the photo at right) — a get-together that took 38 years to arrange, proof that miracles do happen.

Maybe I’ll run into some of you in 2016, on our way up the down staircase, always.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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Adam Buckman Interviewed on PBS’ ‘MetroFocus’

August 3, 2015

NEW YORK, Aug. 3, 2015 — Click on the pic to watch Rafael Pi Roman interview TV Howl’s Adam Buckman about his book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” on “MetroFocus,” seen on New York’s WNET/Ch. 13:

TV Howl’s Adam Buckman on “MetroFocus,” WNET/Ch. 13, New York.

TV Howl’s Adam Buckman on “MetroFocus,” WNET/Ch. 13, New York.

Read “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman: Order your copy today — right HERE!

— Adam Buckman

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Complicated man: Remembering Morton Downey

July 30, 2015
FORGET HIM NOT: Morton Downey Jr. played the role of the angry man on his 1980s talk show, but it was difficult to tell if the image he created was just an act or the real Mort. (Photo: CNN)

FORGET HIM NOT: Morton Downey Jr. played the role of the angry man on his 1980s talk show, but it was difficult to tell if the image he created was just an act or the real Mort. (Photo: CNN)


‘He was the most vexing TV personality I ever knew’ – book excerpt, below, from JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television by Adam Buckman


"Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie" comes to CNN Aug. 20.

“Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” comes to CNN Aug. 20.

NEW YORK, July 30, 2015 — A documentary called “Evocateur” evokes memories of a brief time — a little less than two years in the 1980s, as a matter of fact — in which one man turned the TV business on its head and, as it turned out, a portion of the popular culture too.

He was Morton Downey Jr., who is the subject of the documentary subtitled “The Morton Downey Jr. Movie.”  It was completed in 2012 and makes its TV debut on CNN on Thursday, Aug. 20, at 9 p.m. Eastern.  The film was produced and directed by Seth Kramer, Danny Miller and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films.

The documentary tells the story of Downey’s meteoric rise and fall, framing his emergence as a lightning rod for controversy within the context of his times.  As the documentary notes, the combative, confrontational style he pioneered on his locally produced TV talk show has become de rigueur on TV today.  But back then, Downey was ahead of his time.

As a journalist on the TV beat both at the beginning of Downey’s TV career in 1987 and at the end of his life in 2001, I have my own stories to tell about a man who was unlike anyone else I ever encountered in the TV business.  Here is the story of Morton Downey Jr. and me, excerpted from my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”:


Part V

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Books, TV shows, public appearances, charitable works – these were the kinds of promotable projects for which celebrities or their representatives would get in touch with journalists to arrange interviews.

Read “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman: Order your copy today — right HERE!

One celebrity topped them all, however, when he called me up to promote something no one else ever tried to get me to publicize: His death.

He was Morton Downey Jr., perhaps the most vexing personality I ever came across in the television business.  I first met him in fall 1987 or early 1988, when he was rocketing to fame as the loud-mouthed host of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” – the most talked-about TV show of its era.

Starting locally as a nightly show in New York City in fall 1987, it went national in May 1988, but then never found the wide audience its syndicators hoped it would.  Advertisers judged the show to be too vitriolic and controversial and they stayed away too.  As a result, “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” declined and fell as quickly as it ascended.  After just one year in national syndication, it was cancelled in early summer 1989.  Though the show lasted less than two years, it turned Downey – who was 54 when the show premiered – into the most notorious TV personality in America, however briefly.

May 9, 1988: "The Morton Downey Jr. Show" goes national. (Source: Author's collection)

May 1988: “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” goes national.

He accomplished this by positioning himself as an attack dog for the right – verbally assaulting (and occasionally physically assaulting) his more-liberal guests.  Wildly waving the cigarettes that he became famous for chain-smoking on the air, he would get close enough to his guests to blow smoke in their faces.  He railed against liberals and called them “pablum-pukers” – a label that became something of a catchphrase for him.  His show was incendiary and so was he.  And although he foreshadowed the contentious, partisan television talk-show hosts of today, back in ’87 he was the only one.

Downey had come from radio, where partisan, opinionated talk personalities were all the rage.  He migrated to television courtesy of WWOR/Ch. 9 in New York, an independent station that was desperate for ratings during prime-time hours because it was not then affiliated with any network.  So the station produced the Downey show in its own studios in Secaucus, N.J., and made headlines almost from the start.  In my first story on Downey in November 1987, one unnamed TV executive described the show as “a cross between Ted Koppel and professional wrestling.”  The show took viewer phone calls, and members of the studio audience were invited to stand at a podium at the foot of one of the aisles and participate also – when they weren’t leaping from their seats and screaming.  “The shouting contributes to the chaotic texture of the show,” I wrote.  “In fact, sometimes the program seems out of control,” I continued, demonstrating a talent for understatement.

Morton Downey Jr. on the set of his talk show.

Morton Downey Jr. on the set of his talk show.

By writing about it, I had also demonstrated my fascination with the show and with Downey himself, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to join him for lunch at 21 on West 52nd Street.  He couldn’t have been more charming, which was understandable because he was evidently intent on wooing a reporter to help support his show and promote it into national syndication.  He was entertaining, ebullient company – nothing like the persona he adopted for his TV show.  I formed the impression that the yelling and posturing he affected on TV was an act.  Maybe he really believed the things he said on the show or maybe he didn’t, but like so many other TV and radio personalities who feign anger and spew vitriol on TV and radio, he was not that same opinionated, high-decibel guy in person.  Whatever or whoever Morton Downey Jr. really was, that lunch was the beginning of a relationship – not quite a friendship, but something – that would last until his death in 2001, the very death he called me to promote.

From our table at 21, in this former speakeasy’s intimate wood-paneled dining room, Mort pointed to a banquette nearby where he said his mother was sitting when she went into labor on the night he was born in 1932.  Was the story true?  With Mort, you never could tell.  It was certainly possible that back on that December evening in ’32, his mother was gaily enjoying drinks, or at least supper, at 21.  She was a dancer and a movie actress named Barbara Bennett, and her two sisters – Mort’s aunts – were movie stars, Constance and Joan Bennett.  His father, Morton Downey, was a debonair singer and radio star of the 1930s.  Morton Downey Jr.’s career would be a lot less glamorous, but a lot more infamous.

And his career continued for a time after the cancellation of that first notorious talk show.  It was near the end of that show’s run in 1989 that Mort began forming the habit of calling me up.  In one such call, in June 1989, he phoned to deny that his show was on the verge of being cancelled, even though reports in the TV trade press were insisting that the show would soon be gone.  “My obituary has been written before,” he told me then.  “I’ve had seven lives, but I still have two more.”

Days later, the announcement came: “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was dead.

But not Mort – at least not yet.

July 31, 1989: New projects in the works

July 31, 1989: New projects in the works

Just a few weeks later, he held a news conference to lay out his future plans, which included a sitcom pilot and a series of daily radio commentaries.  And thus began a nearly 12-year run of future-project announcements from Morton Downey Jr.

Not that some of them weren’t true – at least initially.  In the years following the end of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show,” Mort had two shows on CNBC, with the first one – titled “Showdown” – premiering in December 1989, just months after the syndicated show breathed its last.  “TV is a crazy business,” he told me when “Showdown” premiered.  “A few months ago, they said I was dead.  Well, I’ve been dead more times than W.C. Fields,” he said – a Fields reference I didn’t understand at the time, and still don’t.

The CNBC shows came and went.  Then came a series of local radio jobs – in Washington, Dallas and Cleveland.  They were short-lived.  And then it appeared that Mort himself would be short-lived too.  After years of chain-smoking, he had lung cancer.  He told me the news in another one of his surprise phone calls, which had continued in the years following his TV heyday.  The phone would ring and there would be Mort when I least expected him, calling from California where he now lived to tell me about new plans and projects – an upcoming guest shot on a talk show, a new radio gig, a TV talk show, a new Web site.  Whether his plans were real or imagined, I loved to hear him talk, though I rarely wrote the items he asked for.

Then came the call in July 1996 when Mort told me in a hoarse voice that he was about to enter a California hospital for surgery to remove part of a lung.  “Say a prayer,” Mort said solemnly.  “I’m scared stiff.”

July 12, 1996: "Prayers for Mort"

July 12, 1996: “Prayers for Mort”

From the way he described his illness and this operation, I wouldn’t have been too surprised to learn over the weekend that he had died on the operating table.  Whatever the outcome would be, I didn’t hesitate to write a story for him.  This kind of story was a tabloid staple – a story about a prominent personality on his or her deathbed, with a limited, but time-tested selection of possible headlines: “Prayers for Mort,” “Mort’s brave last days,” “Mort’s agony,” and the classic “Mort’s plea: Let me die!”

I went with “Prayers for Mort” for a five-inch story on Mort’s pre-surgery agony, and then followed up with an update the next day reporting that Mort survived the procedure and was listed in stable condition.  Apparently, even while recovering in intensive-care, Mort was thinking up new publicity schemes.  Just days after his surgery, he suddenly turned up on “Larry King Live” on CNN to announce that he was about to launch a new TV talk show.  He also volunteered to come to the assistance of troubled actor Robert Downey Jr., who had been arrested twice in recent weeks on drug-related charges, even though Mort was not related to the actor and it was doubtful they had ever met.

Mort’s proposal to counsel this actor with a similar name was absurd.  It was also irresistible, and I leapt at the opportunity to write a story about it, if only to compose a headline like the one the story wound up carrying: “Mort to troubled movie actor: ‘Let’s talk Downey to Downey!’ ”

July 19, 1996: "Let's talk Downey to Downey!" (Source: Author's collection)

July 19, 1996: “Let’s talk Downey to Downey!”

Morton Downey Jr. was nothing if not brash.  Here he was recovering from surgery in which a third of his right lung was removed and he was attempting to reap publicity from the notoriety of an actor who he didn’t even know, simply because the two of them had the same last name.  “If I can help him, I want to do that,” Mort told Larry King emphatically. “We Downeys have to stick together!”

Mort’s announcement that he was about to launch a new TV talk show was even more difficult to swallow than the idea that Robert Downey Jr. would welcome Mort’s intervention in his struggle against drug addiction.  Mort said he was offered this new show the night before his surgery.  “[The producers] called to say, ‘We’ve given you a two-year contract’,” Mort told King, “which said, ‘We believe you will be alive two years from now’.”

It was vintage Mort – claiming that some unnamed producers would agree to invest millions in a new talk show for a man who has lung cancer.  Under the circumstances, it is doubtful such a contract ever existed, though anything is possible.  As it happened, a new Morton Downey Jr. talk show never did materialize and his career as a talk show host – on TV or radio – was over.

He still surfaced on other people’s talk shows, though.  In January 2000, he showed up again on “Larry King Live,” looking very ill and reporting that his weight had plummeted recently to 112 pounds, though it was then back up to 148 pounds because he was eating a quart of ice cream a day.  And he continued to call me to update me on his latest health crises and hospital stays, and also to report on the usual raft of new projects in the works, the majority of which were pure blarney, though sometimes he would surprise me by actually telling me something that was true.  I didn’t believe it when he claimed in a phone call some time in 2000 that Fox was developing a made-for-TV movie about his life.  To my amazement, this claim turned out to be true, as I learned later when a Fox executive confirmed it for me.  (Unfortunately, as happens with so many of these projects, the movie was never produced.)

But by January 2001, Mort was running out of projects to promote, and he was running out of time.  He was succumbing to cancer and he had only one thing left he felt he could publicize, and that was his impending demise.  He called me to mention it on Jan. 5, 2001 – a Friday.

Not surprisingly, he sounded terrible.  His voice was hoarse and raspy.  He’d just spent five weeks in the hospital – Cedars Sinai – and the doctors had sent him home, but not before informing him his condition was “irreversible.”

“How grateful I am for the things you did for me while we were here,” he said from his home in Northridge.  “And, uh, I just [wanted to] let you know that I had one hell of a great time and I loved you for all you’ve done.”

I wasn’t sure what to say.  I had never before received a phone call from a dying man.  Nor did I ever think I had done so much for Morton Downey Jr. that I would be deserving of his thanks when the end was near.  Well, that was at least one purpose of this phone call – to thank me and tell me he loved me.

He had at least two other things on his mind too – one was his death, of course, and the other was Robert Downey Jr. – again.  It turned out the two topics were intertwined.  “I gotta get Robert Downey Jr. to make a couple of comments, and that’s where you could help too,” Mort said, speaking haltingly in order to catch his breath and clear his throat.

“A couple of comments about what, particularly?” I asked skeptically.

“I’m thinking in terms of Robert should say, you know, ‘There’s one other Downey in this whole thing.  His name’s Morton Downey Jr. and I’m sayin’ a prayer for him, you know, I’m sure he said them for me’.”

“It’s an interesting idea.  How does he feel about you?” I asked, playing along even though I knew there would be no way in hell I could contact Robert Downey Jr. and ask him to issue some sort of statement about Morton Downey Jr.

“I think he likes me because when he was on trial, and no one would show up, I’d show up out there.”

“And yet, you’re not related,” I pointed out.

“No, no relation at all,” Mort said breezily.

“You just sort of feel a kinship in a weird way,” I said.

“People think he’s my kid,” insisted Mort, who suddenly began a bout of deep, racking coughs that sounded as if he would pass away right then and there.

“I’m a little taken aback,” I said to him.  “I hope this is just good-bye … for now.”

“Yeah, I hope just for now,” Mort said, apparently shaken and weakened by this coughing fit.  “And if it isn’t, my dear friend, you know that I do love you.”

He then blurted out, “In true reality, I never hated anyone!”  He then began sobbing and was unable to continue talking.  We both hung up and I sat there wondering if that was the last time I would ever get a call from Morton Downey Jr.

It was not.

A few minutes later, the phone rang.  It was Mort again and he had apparently regained his composure.  In a stronger voice than he possessed a few minutes previously, he laid out the primary reason why he called me that day.  “What I’m doing now, to be honest, is just ridiculously stupid, but I gotta do it,” he said apologetically.  “I’m actually promoting my death – you know, right up to the end – to make sure that everything goes well for my family.  I have spent over $300,000 outside of my insurance for private nurses and everything else. …  And if I could get you to lead the way for me, I know there’s people out there that, you know, who would hold a dinner or do something that would make it look like I wasn’t broke and everything else.”

As he struggled to tell me what he wanted, I gradually came to understand that Mort wanted me to somehow write a story about his circumstances that would not leave the impression he was broke (which he insisted he wasn’t), but would nevertheless motivate some well-connected reader – perhaps someone also in the entertainment field – to organize some sort of benefit event for him, presumably before he died.

“If I could get someone to say something … ,” he said, meaning a journalist such as myself who would write something about his situation, or some celebrity, such as Robert Downey Jr., for example, to “say something.”

“Not begging for money,” Mort cautioned.  “I don’t wanna do that.   That’s the worst thing in the world.  Nobody likes a loser.”

I asked him, “Is this about keeping your name alive so that there’s potential for making money off of your name after you’re no longer here?”

“Probably that’s it,” he replied.  “Probably someone who can say he knew the guy [and] the guy was not a pig.”

I assured him that I did not think he was a pig, and I was sure no one else did either.  I told him I’d give the idea some thought, but I knew there was nothing I could or would do to organize some sort of dinner in his honor, much less one that was supposed to raise money for him while not letting on that he needed any.  That was an impossible task.

Mort was tiring and the conversation soon ended.  “I’m having a little difficult time breathing.  Call me at any time,” he said, though I didn’t happen to have his phone number.

“Have a good weekend,” I said to him – my lame attempt to remain upbeat, even though he sounded so sick that I doubted he would survive until Monday.

We said good-bye, and I pondered what he’d said – all this talk about promoting his own death, holding some sort of testimonial dinner, getting Robert Downey Jr. to make some kind of public statement.  When I stopped to think about it, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and I concluded that Mort was just disoriented from medication, constant pain, and the overwhelming fatigue that must accumulate when one wages a nearly five-year battle against lung cancer.  What did he really want that day?  With death staring him in the face, it dawned on me that Morton Downey Jr. just wanted to be remembered.

He didn’t die that weekend, but it was the last time I heard from him.  He lasted another 10 weekends, dying on Monday, March 12.  Two days later, I wrote a tribute column detailing our final phone call and attempting to fulfill what I felt was his last request to me.  “I plan on remembering him,” I wrote, “and I’ll miss his phone calls.”

[Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman. Copyright Adam Buckman 2014 All Rights Reserved.]

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Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

Miniature cover

The Greatest David Letterman Story Ever Told

May 18, 2015
David Letterman, seen last Friday night (May 15) on his CBS "Late Show." Photo: CBS

David Letterman, seen last Friday night (May 15, 2015) on his CBS “Late Show.” Photo: CBS

SUMMER 1995:



NEW YORK, May 18, 2015 — The memories come flooding back in this final week of David Letterman’s CBS “Late Show,” which has its final broadcast on Wednesday (May 20).

One such memory goes all the way back to 1995, the year Jay Leno overtook Letterman to seize the top spot in the late-night ratings — a position Leno held for the remainder of his run on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

Here is the story, in full, of how a newspaper TV section covered this particular battle in the late-night wars in the summer of 1995.

The story is excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by yours truly, Adam Buckman. It follows a section about Jerry Seinfeld.

On Oct. 17, 1995, the New York TV section asked its readers: "What do you suggest Dave should do to reverse his show's ratings slide?"

On Oct. 17, 1995, the New York Post TV section asked its readers: “What do you suggest Dave should do to reverse his show’s ratings slide?” Read what happened next, below …


Part III

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

If the Post’s “Seinfeld” poll had anything to do with sapping Seinfeld’s confidence in himself and his show, then this whole “poll” episode emerges as another instance in which a public figure attached much too much importance to some silly feature in an impish tabloid.

Read “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman: Order your copy today — right HERE!

Or maybe I was always the one who habitually underestimated the significance of these things.  Not that I lacked pride in my work, but I always assumed that a newspaper, purchased for loose change and read cover to cover in the time it takes to travel a half-dozen stops on the subway, was ultimately forgotten within a few hours, if not minutes.

And yet, celebrities and their handlers felt differently.  Such was the case in 1995 when David Letterman’s executive producer arranged a summit meeting with the Post’s editors to discuss the TV section’s near-constant abuse of Dave.  One of the final straws for the producer, Robert Morton – known as Morty – was, yes, another ornery Flash-Fax Poll, this one published on Oct. 17, 1995.

It was a watershed year for Letterman and late-night television, for it was the year Jay Leno caught up to Letterman in the ratings and then surpassed him, reestablishing NBC’s “Tonight Show” as the time period’s dominant show for the next 14 seasons.

To put it mildly, we were rooting for Jay.  Why?  Well, I’d like to say it was because the struggles of an underdog always make for great newspaper stories, and it was no less true in 1995 as Leno doggedly pursued Letterman in the ratings.  But our decidedly negative focus on Letterman that year could more accurately be described as a vengeful response to the apparently low regard in which Letterman and his representatives held the New York Post’s TV section.

Their attitude was made crystal clear one week in May as Letterman prepared to take his show to London, England, for a week of special telecasts from the British capital.  The shows were due to start on Monday, May 15, and Letterman was suddenly all over the place conducting interviews with newspapers and magazines to promote the trip, including our principal competitors, the New York Daily News and The New York Times.  But Letterman and his press reps made no time for a phoner with the Post.  Indeed, we didn’t learn the normally press shy late-night host was agreeing to be interviewed that week until we read an interview in the Daily News.

The reasons for our exclusion have faded from memory if, in fact, I ever learned them.  Sometimes, the Post TV section was left off the list of media in line for celebrity interviews simply because, well, we were part of the Post.  And maybe Letterman’s people were miffed at some offense committed elsewhere in the paper that had nothing to do with us.  Maybe it was an item on the paper’s hard-hitting gossip page, Page Six, that had offended Letterman, as happened sometimes with celebrities sought by the TV section.  Or maybe the paper had been among those that had come down hard on Letterman after he hosted the Oscars in March and was lambasted by critics for his performance.

Whatever the reason, in the absence of a Letterman interview to publish that week, we were still faced with finding a way to climb aboard the Letterman bandwagon, since, interview or no interview, I felt an obligation to note the show’s trip to London somewhere in the TV section because this particular stunt happened to be unusual enough to qualify as big news.

With no interview, it seemed to me that there was only one other angle available to explore, and that was the state of Letterman’s ratings on the eve of this overseas trip undertaken smack in the middle of the May ratings sweep.  Fortunately, there was a legitimate ratings story brewing that spring.  Letterman had dominated late-night television ever since he launched his new “Late Show” on CBS in August 1993.  But by May 1995, Jay Leno, who had taken over for Johnny Carson on NBC’s “Tonight Show” on May 25, 1992, was gaining on Letterman.

That was the state of late-night when I weighed in on the closeness of the competition in a column published on Friday, May 12, 1995, when Letterman and his producers were already in London preparing for the following week.

I was editor of the TV section at the time and rarely wrote columns.  But I recall taking on this assignment myself in order to relieve any of the department’s staff writers from bearing the brunt of any complaints that might arise over the negative tone of the coverage I was planning.  Besides, I was enraged by Letterman and his people passing us over for an interview, as if the Post, with a circulation somewhere around 450,000 copies everyday, was not important enough to include among all the other papers which were lining up to help Letterman publicize his London telecasts.

Diving Dave -page-001 ASo I conspired to hit them right between the eyes with a column headlined “Diving Dave’s decline” in 90-point type and taking up nearly an entire page.   The column characterized Letterman as “cocky” and his style of comedy as “twisted” and “sick.”  A caption under a photo of Letterman hosting the Oscars called him a “late-night loser.”   And Leno, who nine times out of 10 had been customarily depicted in the pages of the Post’s TV section with that grotesque “spit-take” photo from the Associated Press, was newly elevated in status.  Gone was the spit-take picture; in its place was a photo of a confident Jay Leno at the wheel of one of his classic cars.  Leno was no longer a late-night loser; he was now, according to the column, “NBC’s brash, never-say-die challenger.”

“The cocky king of late-night is about to be toppled from his throne,” read the column’s lead sentence.  The piece then laid out the relevant ratings data, demonstrating how Letterman’s numbers had fallen during the past year while Leno’s had climbed, until by mid-May 1995, Leno was trailing Letterman by just one-tenth of a ratings point.

“If the trend continues,” the column boldly predicted, “Leno will surpass Letterman soon.”

However, even after painstakingly detailing the case for Leno’s probable ascension to the top of the late-night ratings, I still had about 10 column inches to fill.  So I hammered Letterman.  What did I have to lose?  We had no relationship with Letterman and his press office, anyway.  What difference did it make whether they were offended by a column in the Post?

So, I let fly.  “This year, Letterman has had one failure after another,” I opined.  “He and his producers chose Tom Snyder to host the show following Letterman’s ‘Late Show,’ billing Snyder as ‘the consummate broadcaster’ who would win his time period against NBC’s ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’ as decisively as Letterman used to beat Leno.

“But guess what,” I pointed out, “More than five months after his debut, Snyder has made no headway against O’Brien.”

“Then,” I continued, laying it on thick, “Letterman hosted the Oscars, where his twisted, sick humor was unanimously panned by critics.”

I even complained about Letterman’s trip to England, implying that it was impractical, if not unpatriotic.  “Now,” I scoffed, “at a time when Letterman desperately needs to win new fans here at home, he’s going to England for a week of shows.”

One of the lessons I learned early on at the Post: If you are going to burn bridges or people, do it in style.  Use big headlines, choose large pictures, apply blunt verbiage.

The column evidently hit home because it wasn’t long on that Friday before I received a phone call from London.  It was Letterman’s publicist.  And she tore into me.   She took issue with every aspect of the column – from the name-calling (“late-night loser,” “cocky king”), for which I didn’t really blame her, to the litany of ratings data, which, truth be told, were unassailable, though she tried mightily to assail them.  I remember that I happened to have my tape recorder hooked up to my phone when she called and I recorded the entire diatribe.  Some time later, I taped over it, possibly because it was so vicious I wished never to hear it again.

It was one of those instances when I would begin to doubt my own judgment.  I wondered: Had I gone too far?  In analyzing the ratings data, had I treated the subject fairly in building a case for my prediction that Letterman was on track to fall behind Leno within a few months?  Couldn’t I have written that caption under Letterman’s photo without the three-word, bold-face starter in all caps: “LATE-NIGHT LOSER”?

I contemplated these questions all the way until Monday morning.  That’s when I picked up The New York Times and saw an interview with Letterman in a story that analyzed his ratings and pointed out, in a manner similar to the way I had on Friday, that Leno was breathing down Letterman’s neck.  I wondered if the Times reporter received an angry phone call from London, though I knew the likely answer to that was no.

It was always the same old story – other papers, such as the Times, handled their story subjects with kid gloves, while we at the Post handled them with boxing gloves.  So we got screamed at, while our competitors got the interviews we coveted.

For consolation at such times, I would conjure a lesson imparted by a former editor at an earlier job, in 1986, after I had just gotten off the phone with an irate spokeswoman from a New York radio station.  She was reacting to a story I wrote about the death of the station’s traffic reporter, who was killed when the station’s helicopter crashed into the Hudson River.  The spokeswoman was angered by the story’s suggestion that the station had possibly behaved negligently in leasing the helicopter from a company with a checkered safety record.  Naturally, she took issue with that suggestion and berated me for it.  Afterwards, this editor told me, “The louder they yell, the more accurate your story probably was.”  His aphorism has proven true virtually every time a story subject or his or her representative has called up to scream at me.

However, that is where the teachings of this particular editor began and ended.  He didn’t say anything about taking revenge or escalating the hostilities.  No, I came up with that strategy all on my own, for that was the summer we beat up David Letterman.

You could argue the story was legitimate, at least in its most basic form, which was the account of Letterman’s continuing slide in the ratings and Leno’s rise.  And Leno might have eventually passed Letterman under normal circumstances, but Leno was aided by happenstance in the form of a movie star suddenly derailed by scandal.  It was Hugh Grant, who was arrested in Hollywood on June 27 when vice cops nabbed him in his parked car while he availed himself of the services of a transvestite prostitute. He was previously scheduled to appear on Leno’s “Tonight Show” about two weeks later, on July 10, and he kept the date.  The show – in which Leno began his interview with the question, “What the hell were you thinking?” – became the most talked-about show in Leno’s entire tenure as “Tonight Show” host and it won for him the boost he needed to close the gap.  In August, he moved ahead of Letterman in the ratings and stayed there for good.

It’s doubtful our negative coverage of Letterman that summer helped move the ratings needle for Leno.  Despite the Post’s circulation and its ability, at least occasionally, to influence opinion, I always believed that the paper and, by extension, its back-of-the-paper television section, was no match for the TV networks, which all maintained well-populated p.r. departments whose job it was to offset any negative publicity that came their way.  Moreover, the audience for network television – numbering in the tens of millions – was far larger than the Post’s readership, and the networks had millions of promotional dollars at their disposal and their own airtime on which to spend it.

Still, the press clung to the ratings story that summer, but none more zealously than the Post.  Week after week, when the Nielsen ratings for the previous week were released – which traditionally happened every Thursday – we ballyhooed Leno’s rise and in the process seized every opportunity we could to kick Letterman to the curb.

We would gratuitously bombard him with headlines, captions and belittling phrases.  “JAY CLOBBERS DAVE” read one headline on an otherwise routine ratings story that ordinarily would not carry a headline weighing in at about 90 points and composed in all-caps.  “DAVE’S OUT AT HOME” was the headline on another story about how Leno was even beating Letterman in the ratings in New York, hometown of Letterman’s “Late Show,” on the local stations owned by the networks, WNBC and WCBS.  We labeled Letterman a “strikeout king” and took pains to proclaim, “David Letterman’s reign as New York’s late-night comedy king is over.”

In one story brilliantly contrived by one of our TV reporters, Josef Adalian, we took Letterman to task for smoking cigars on his show.  The story included statements from public health officials decrying Letterman’s smoking habit and admonishing him for setting a poor example for youth.

Jay rerun king (1)-page-001 ABy September, we were even focusing on the ratings race during weeks when Leno and Letterman were on vacation and their shows were in reruns – something we never would have covered previously.  In one over-sized headline published on Sept. 1, we declared: “Jay’s the king of late-night reruns,” accompanied by a subhead: “Leno notches another win while Dave vacations,” implying that Letterman, who was taking a two-week vacation to Leno’s one week off, was loafing while his harder-working rival steadily built an ever-increasing lead.  “Letterman’s two-week vacation continues,” the story noted, “while Leno has been hard at work this week.”  By this time, Leno had beaten Letterman in four of the preceding seven weeks.  My prediction of May 12 had come true.  The story of Leno’s rise and diving Dave’s decline should have been coming to a close.  But I didn’t let up.

By Oct. 17, it was time for a “Flash-Fax Poll.”  This one was headlined: “Dave’s dilemma,” and featured a headshot of a grinning, confident Jay Leno on the left side and on the right, a headshot of Letterman grimacing.  “With David Letterman’s ratings declining, the Post wants to know how you feel about him,” said the poll’s text.  “What do you suggest Dave should do to reverse his show’s ratings slide?”  The poll attracted more than 200 responses and it undoubtedly played a role in what happened next, at least indirectly, as Letterman’s executive producer decided he had had enough of the Post TV section ragging on his show.

For Robert Morton, the straw that broke the camel’s back was not specifically the poll, or one of our overblown headlines, or our contrivances about Letterman’s personal habits such as cigar-smoking, though these were all contributing factors.  No, the final straw turned out to be a tiny photo caption.  In a short story about Leno, published around the same time as the fax poll, I wrote a caption under a benign headshot of Leno that took direct aim at Letterman, even though this was a rare story about Leno that had nothing at all to do with Letterman and the late-night ratings race.   The caption, wholly unrelated to the contents of the story, read: “JAY LENO: Kicking Letterman’s butt.”

Soon thereafter came a phone call from Morty, who was shrewd enough to recognize that the caption was irrelevant to the story in which it appeared and, it seemed to him, represented a gratuitous and unfair shot at Letterman.  He was right, of course, yet I doubt if I admitted it at the time.  To his credit, Morty didn’t yell or scream.  Instead, he invited me to negotiate a détente.  There was only one problem.  Morty wanted me to come to his office in the Ed Sullivan Theater building at Broadway and 53rd Street to talk about it.  Feeling contrary, I refused and told him, somewhat arrogantly in retrospect, that if he wanted to talk to me, I’m easy to find.  All he had to do was come down to the Post at 1211 Sixth Avenue and I would meet with him there.  I didn’t tell him this, but I felt that if I went to him, he would benefit from a kind of home-field advantage and I imagined that, in those surroundings, I would feel as if I was being put on the defensive.

A short while later, I received a call from Ken Chandler.  Morty had gone over my head.  He had called Chandler and told the editor of the Post of my refusal to meet with him and my counter-invitation to hold our peace talks at the Post.  Chandler went a step farther.  He arranged an appointment for Morty to come down, accompanied by the Letterman show’s outside public-relations representative, Ken Lerer, to meet with a group of Post editors, including me.  The meeting was held on Oct. 23.  That same day, before it was convened and the conference room was empty, I took the last shot in our war against David Letterman, though I never told a soul about this final act.

This meeting was to be held in a conference room I knew well.  It was where the editors of the Post met twice daily to discuss the day’s lineup of stories.   As a participant in those meetings, the characteristics of the room were well-known to me, particularly the operations of the room’s stock of rolling office chairs and the way you could adjust their heights by turning them upside down and spinning the wheel carriage – one direction to lower the seat and the other direction to raise it.  So, a short time before Morton and Lerer were to arrive for our summit meeting, I went to the conference room and turned over each of its chairs, raising every seat except one.  Later, when I escorted Morty into the room, where more than a half-dozen Post editors were also gathering, I led him straight to the lowest chair in the room, and that’s where he sat for the duration of the half-hour meeting, his seat about six or eight inches lower than everybody else’s.

Why did I do it?  If memory serves, I likely resented Morty going to my boss, the editor of the Post, to arrange this meeting after I refused Morty’s invitation to meet with him in his office, though, looking back, I can hardly blame Morty for doing so.  If that was the reason, basically to get even with him, then it would be more than fair to characterize this chair trick as immature and spiteful.  You might even say I acted like a jerk and you would be right.

The meeting turned the tide.  Morty’s short chair notwithstanding, the gathering was cordial.  Morty articulated his view, which he stated often in those days, that the reason for Letterman’s decline in the ratings had nothing to do with the quality of Letterman’s “Late Show.”  Instead, Morty averred, Letterman’s ratings problems were due to the low ratings of the shows that aired before his – CBS’s prime-time programs and the similarly low-rated 11 p.m. newscasts on most of the CBS affiliates.

His take on the situation, in which he blamed Letterman’s lead-ins for the “Late Show’s” low ratings, was debatable. But under the circumstances, I reasoned that this meeting was not the place to debate it.  When the meeting was over, we parted on friendly terms and, as a parting gift, I handed Morty a stack of 200 responses to our Letterman fax poll for him to peruse at his leisure if he so desired.  And he promised that the Post TV department’s access to his show would improve.  He even held out the possibility of an interview with Letterman in a few weeks, since the show was planning another out-of-town trip, this time to produce a week of shows originating from Los Angeles.

So, after all the months of conflict, our war with Letterman’s “Late Show,” a war that began all the way back in May, was over.  I even got to interview Letterman on the phone in early November about his L.A. trip and the interview was so low-key and benign (not to mention almost completely lacking in news value) that I almost forgot what in the world we had been fighting about.

Letterman 3For his part, Letterman repeated Morty’s mantra about the decline of CBS’s prime-time shows.  “Well, we’re getting clobbered,” Letterman admitted, “and we’re trying as hard as we can.  I just honestly don’t know if there’s much – beyond trying to make it a decent show every night – that we can do about this situation.  I mean, when we started [in 1993], CBS was, I think, usually No. 1 and now they’re usually No. 4.  So we’ve had a network crumble out from under us.”

I never spoke to Letterman again.  But I did briefly become the talk of the town when The New Yorker magazine got wind of the summit meeting we had held at the Post and turned it into a story for its Talk of the Town section.  “Severe consequences await those who cross the Post – just ask David Letterman,” read the story’s lead sentence, published on Nov. 11, 1995.  The piece then took a mere column and a half of New Yorker magazine space to chronicle our months-long battle with the Letterman show.  “Will we stop beating them over the head every week on the issue of ratings?” I’m quoted as asking, rhetorically, in the story’s final paragraph.  “Probably,” I evidently told the reporter, “because the story is getting old.  Now, if Dave comes back, we’ll run with that.  It would be another great story, and, frankly, that’s all I care about.”

Yeah, right.

THE TALK OF THE TOWN: The New Yorker, Nov. 13, 1995, "The Other Peace Talks."

THE TALK OF THE TOWN: The New Yorker, Nov. 13, 1995, “The Other Peace Talks.”

[Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman. Copyright Adam Buckman 2014 All Rights Reserved.]

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Miniature cover

From ‘beautiful downtown Encino’: Gary Owens

February 14, 2015
Gary Owens 1934-2015 (Author's personal collection)

Gary Owens 1934-2015 (Author’s collection)


NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2015 — He signed his first note to me “Best Krelbs, Gary Owens.”

In later years, he introduced me to the Maytag repairman, sent me a vintage copy of Laugh-In magazine from his own personal stockpile, and invited me to Los Angeles to be his guest at one of the monthly get-togethers of Yarmy’s Army.

And yet, the fact was, I barely knew him.

But corresponding with the press, even a reporter located 3,000 miles away in New York, was how a certain generation of TV and radio personalities conducted their own publicity.  And so, I would receive these handwritten notes and occasional phone calls from Gary Owens in which he would update me on his career.

He would call and announce in his distinctive voice that it was Gary Owens calling from “beautiful downtown Encino.”  And he’d tell me what he was up to, including the latest news about Yarmy’s Army.

This was a loosely structured club whose members were mainly comedians and character actors whose faces, but not necessarily their names, were familiar to anyone who regularly watched the TV situation-comedies of the 1960s and 1970s.

It was named for an actor named Dick Yarmy, brother of Don Adams (born Donald Yarmy), who was stricken with cancer.  To cheer him up, his friends rallied to entertain him.  After he died, they continued to meet once a month, calling themselves Yarmy’s Army.  Gary Owens was proud to belong to this group, and he mentioned them often.

Today, many of those club members who I may have met if I had accepted his invitation (proffered sometime in the 1990s) are now gone, some long-gone.  And now, Gary’s gone too.  He died Thursday at age 80.

And now, I’m writing one of these remembrance blogs — again.  It’s not that I go around looking for opportunities to eulogize the dead. But due to what you might call “lifespan arithmetic,” a handful of personalities I first met when I was in my 20s and 30s are now in their 80s and now, well, you do the math.

The truth is, I formed relationships with very few such people over the years.  It is a very finite list.  But it just so happens, though, that Gary Owens was one of them (as was Joe Franklin, who died a few weeks ago and who I wrote about HERE).

I first made contact with Gary Owens in March 1983 because I had just read in the Washington Post that Owens, then a radio personality in Los Angeles, was spearheading a campaign to honor the Three Stooges with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

The Three Stooges and Gary Owens: For me, this was a winning combination.

So, I decided to try and get him on the phone — probably the first time in my career that I attempted to reach some public personality on the phone in my capacity as a journalist covering the broadcasting business.  To be specific, I was covering radio as the editor of a small biweekly newsletter called RadioNews, based in Bethesda, Md.

To my amazement, Gary Owens — who I knew best as the comical announcer on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — came to the phone after I called his L.A. station and simply asked to speak with him. He then told me of his campaign to honor the Stooges with a bronze sidewalk star (a “campaign” that became successful just a few months later) and explained that he’d known the Stooges personally (at least some of them).

If memory serves, he was particularly fond of Larry Fine (who died in 1975) — telling me how he’d often run into Larry shopping for groceries at a supermarket in Hollywood (I believe it was a Safeway) and my imagination blazed with a mental image of the “beautiful downtown Burbank” announcer from “Laugh-In” chatting amiably with wild-haired Larry Fine of the Three Stooges somewhere in a supermarket produce department.

Gary’s note with his nonsensical “Best Krelbs” sign-off accompanied a clipping from the Los Angeles Times reporting on the success of his Three Stooges campaign.  “Thanks for the help,” he wrote, which was very gracious of him to do since I had written just one tiny story on this subject for RadioNews, a newsletter whose circulation was a paltry 800 subscribers scattered around the country, which meant my tiny story had no bearing on the success or failure of his Three Stooges campaign.

"Best Krelbs, Gary Owens" -- July 7, 1983.

“Best Krelbs, Gary Owens” — July 7, 1983.

I came face to face with Gary Owens only once, at one of the broadcasting-industry conventions I used to cover in the 1980s. This one was the National Association of Broadcasters’ Radio ’87 Convention in Anaheim, Calif., and I ran into Gary in a hotel suite in the company of two of his friends — Jesse White, the actor best known as the original Maytag repairman and Jack Riley, a character actor best known for playing a neurotic patient of Dr. Bob Hartley on the old “Bob Newhart Show.”

(I wrote about this encounter, from which my memories of the Maytag repairman are most prominent, in my book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” excerpted below.)

Laugh-In magazine, November 1968 (Author's collection)

Laugh-In magazine, November 1968 (Author’s collection)

Gary’s notes to me, handwritten (actually, printed — he didn’t use cursive) on simple stationery, were cheerful missives.  “Well, finally, one of the vintage Laugh-in magazines!  Sorry it took so long!” he wrote in a note in January 1997 that came with this magazine that he had apparently promised me but I had completely forgotten about (nor ever really expected to receive).

“Hell has certainly broke loose weather-wise,” he continued, commenting on some severe winter weather that had apparently hit New York.  “In L.A., the kids build smog-men in the yard & put a carrot in for a nose,” he joked.

For some reason, he then segued into a story about Elvis Presley because Elvis’s long-time manager, Col. Tom Parker, had recently died.  “Sorry about Col. Tom Parker,” he wrote.  “First time I met him I was a kid in radio in New Orleans and was chatting with Elvis — suddenly about 20 girls stormed the mezzanine of the St. Charles Hotel and ripped Presley’s clothes & mine! (all set up by the Colonel!) Best — GO.”

I possess five notes from Gary Owens, a photo of Gary and me at the 1987 radio convention, the copy of Laugh-In magazine he gave me, and an autographed picture (the one above).

“Thought I’d drop you a line to let you know what’s happening,” he wrote to me in January 1999.

“After guesting on a recent ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch,’ I’ve been doing a lot of on-camera goodies.  Just finished taping a comedy commercial for Roseanne’s talk show.  I’ll be playing myself on February 21st on Fox on ‘That ’70s Show.’  Also guesting on TBS — ‘Friday Night at the Drive-In,’ ‘Politically Incorrect’ on ABC-TV and ‘The American Comedy Awards’ on Fox.”

He ended this letter: “My national radio show continues strong – getting great ratings on WLUX in Nassau-Suffolk [Long Island] (we’re now in more than 150 cities.)

“Best wishes [not Best Krelbs],

Gary Owens”

And the same to you, Gary.

Contact Adam Buckman:

The Oracle of 42nd Street

January 26, 2015
Joe Franklin and me, April 1989, New York.

Joe Franklin and me, April 1989, New York.

JOE FRANKLIN 1926-2015


NEW YORK, Jan. 26, 2015 — Joe Franklin is gone, and so is his world.

I met Joe for the first time in April 1989.  A year ago, he interviewed me for his Bloomberg Radio series, which he was still doing up until his death this past Saturday at age 88.

Whenever I was in the vicinity of Joe’s most recent office at 43rd Street and 8th Avenue (which wasn’t often), I used to love to stop in and see him, for he was almost always there.  For some reason, I found his presence there reassuring — a great constant in a changing world.

I last spoke to Joe about four weeks ago.  He called to finalize an arrangement for another interview, which now won’t be happening.  And he won’t be in his office either.

In December 2015, I wrote the following tribute to Joe, published on

Remembering A Legend We Lost In 2015: Joe Franklin

In the coming weeks, the airwaves will be filled with salutes to the notables who died in 2015, but for me, one looms largest – Joe Franklin.

He died last January at age 88. And yet, for a man who embodied the very history of television, his death seemed under-reported.

Indeed, he was omitted from the “In Memoriam” segment they showed during the Emmy Awards last September. Can you believe it? They produced a wrap-up of TV personalities we lost in the year between the Emmy Awards and they didn’t include a guy who had worked on TV since the dawn of the Television Age and was still hosting a nightly talk show in the 1990s.

With all due respect to the friends and relatives of many of the writers, producers, composers and other such types they did salute, the segment could have done without most of them. But Joe Franklin? He was one in a million.

I knew him for 25 years. I first met him in 1989 when I was a young reporter writing for one of the TV trade pubs and I spent two raucous days interviewing him and soaking up the atmosphere of his office in a 100 year-old brick building at 42nd Street and Broadway.

Joe’s office was famous for its clutter. It’s not an exaggeration to say that its contents were piled floor-to-ceiling because they really were. These great stacks of magazines, newspapers, 8x10s, film cans and heaven knew what else really did teeter in such a way that you felt they would fall on you at any moment – particularly because there was so much activity going on around them (in the tiny space that was left for human occupancy).

Among other things, he had a black dial table phone that rang constantly, and Joe would answer it and say pretty much the same thing to everyone who called – some variation on, “Great to hear from you. Call me back at 5 o’clock and I’ll have good news for you.” He admitted to me that he almost never had the good news for them that he promised, nor did many of them call back at 5 o’clock either.

Incredibly, when Joe and the other tenants of that old building were forced to leave so it could be torn down, Joe established a new office – in a building on the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street – with the very same clutter. It was as if they had somehow managed to move the piles intact a block west through midtown Manhattan.

In the years after I first met him, I would stop in and see him in his office (whichever one it was) every couple of months or so. He seemed to always be there. Pop in at around noon or 12:30? There was Joe. Walk by the building at 8:30 in the evening and wonder what Joe’s up to? There he was.

He was rarely alone, even in the years after his nightly talk show ended its run on WWOR/Ch. 9 in June 1993. There were always people around him. One man wanted to sell me lightbulbs he said he’d retrieved late one night from a dumpster in Times Square. He claimed they had been part of the original “zipper,” the lighted sign that beamed news headlines around the building known as One Times Square (it’s the building where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve).

I was a guest on “The Joe Franklin Show” during its final week on the air. My fellow guest was the New York Post’s jazz columnist, Chip Deffaa. Also on the show: Kenny Vance and the Planetones, a doo-wop group who sang an a cappella version of “Life Is But a Dream” that was one of the most sublime performances I have ever witnessed.

In 1997, I spent a Saturday night – actually the wee hours of Sunday morning – with Joe and his right-hand man and producer, Richie Ornstein, as Joe hosted his overnight radio show, “Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane,” on WOR-AM from the station’s old studios at 40th Street and Broadway. I bailed at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, but as I drove home through the nearly deserted Manhattan streets, I listened to Joe as he meandered from subject to subject. He would still be at it until 6 a.m.

And he was still at it just a few weeks before he died. Incredibly, Joe Franklin was still interviewing people for Bloomberg radio – segments they would air on weekends. I was due to be interviewed myself some time in December of last year, but it was not to be. Joe had taken ill, and a few weeks later, he died.

And so, if the Emmys can’t get around to saluting Joe Franklin, then I thought I would. I guess I just did.

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My year 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.


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. 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, 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

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.

Last winter, I finished writing my book titled “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” about what it’s been like to cover the TV business for 30 years.   After failing for several years to interest publishers and literary agents in this book, I self-published it on Amazon this year, thanks in part to an offer from Jon Weiman to design a cover for it.  Jon is a designer of book covers who grew up next door to me.

He designed a great cover and I believe I wrote a great book. However, I sold so few of them that I have cause to wonder why on earth I wrote the damn thing in the first place.

Perhaps some sort of answer to that question will come to me in 2015.

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‘Appalling’ comments once made me bail on Joan

September 5, 2014
Joan Rivers in 2012.

Joan Rivers in 2012.



NEW YORK, Sept. 5, 2014 — I once bailed on a radio interview with Joan Rivers because the comments I heard her making on the air while I awaited our interview were so appalling.

Her remarks had nothing do with me.  I was scheduled to do a phone interview with her from my desk at the New York Post.  As is customary for such things, I was placed on hold by a producer for a few minutes before Joan would get around to announcing me and then beginning our interview.  While I was on hold, I could hear Joan talking.

This was back in the 1990s, on an early evening talk show that Joan hosted on WOR-AM in New York, starting in 1997.  I was invited to come on the show to talk about some TV-related topic that was then in the news, but I have no idea today what the topic was.

All I remember is, I was on hold at around 7:45 in the evening, listening in while Joan and someone else (possibly a producer or some other sort of sidekick) riffed on some other forgotten subject.  At some point, their free-wheeling exchange led to Joan vividly describing a scenario in which — sorry about this — bloody fetuses were being thrown off a cruise ship.

I was not then, nor now, particularly prudish about such things, but on that particular evening, I guess I just wasn’t in the mood.  Moreover, I was struck by the juxtaposition I was about to experience as Joan would shortly segue to me, following this graphic diatribe she had just issued.  So, not wishing to be the act that followed this particular material, I then did something that surprised even me, because I had never done this before (nor ever done it since):  I took the phone receiver from my ear, stared at it for a few seconds, and then gently hung up.

A few seconds later, the phone rang but I didn’t pick it up.  It was Joan’s producer, who left a voice-mail message mentioning something about our having been cut off, and then asking if I would please call back since our scheduled interview was seconds away.  Instead of calling back, I locked up my desk drawers and went home, leaving Joan and her producer to wonder what had happened to me.  I heard later that Joan was miffed, or at least mystified, by my sudden withdrawal, which left her having to fill airtime lasting about five minutes or so.

I remembered this incident the other day, while we all awaited the news on her condition, which unfortunately ended in her death yesterday.

I was vaguely acquainted with Joan Rivers because when one spends 30 years on the TV beat, you inevitably come into contact with her.  She was adept (if not obsessive) at maintaining a very visible public profile, which meant that, as a journalist, you could get her on the phone for an interview at the drop of a hat.  And since this cannot be said for many celebrities, Joan’s availability had the effect of endearing her to you, her occasional appalling comments on the radio notwithstanding.

Joan Rivers was the subject of the first bylined story I ever wrote about television — the first of more than 6,000.  It was in July 1983, and the reporter who would have ordinarily conducted this interview with Joan must have been on vacation because it was suddenly assigned to me.  I was then the radio reporter for this particular publication (the long defunct Broadcast Week).

The occasion was the announcement that day that Joan had signed a contract to be Johnny Carson’s sole guest host on the evenings he took off from “The Tonight Show” during the upcoming 1983-84 TV season.

So I found myself on the phone with Joan Rivers.   “How has your career benefited from television?” I asked her.

“It’s given me my whole career,” she answered.  “After my first appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ in 1965, Johnny turned to me and said on the air, ‘You’re going to be a star.’  And suddenly I was.  I found myself booked into all the top spots in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.  It literally changed my life.  Before that, nobody cared.”

Some time in the 1990s, I saw her perform for the first and only time.  She was touring with Don Rickles (billed as “Rivers and Rickles”) and we caught up with them on Long Island, at the Westbury Music Fair.  She opened for Rickles and put on a performance that had to be seen to be believed.  It was a theater-in-the-round and she worked that stage like a whirling dervish, always in motion, wearing a gown and teetering on high heels, and cradling a small dog in the crook of one elbow while holding a microphone in her other hand.

Her act was so electrifying that it was more like performance art than a stand-up act.  Afterwards, we went backstage to meet her and she was understandably tired — so much so that she seemed dazed, though she gamely chatted with us, along with other well-wishers who had been allowed into her dressing room.

I last interviewed Joan Rivers in 2010, about “Fashion Police,” her TV show on E!; and the documentary titled “A Piece of Work” that had come out that year about her life.

“Do you consider yourself particularly fashionable?” I asked her.

“No, I consider myself very smart,” she said.  “I do it all with jackets and jewelry.”

“What are your criteria?” I pressed on.  “What are you looking for when you pass judgment on what other people are wearing?”

You should wear the dress, the dress shouldn’t wear you,” she answered.

“Well, explain this to us: How does it get to the point where a celebrity shows up at an event [wearing something that is so inappropriate that they get ridiculed for it]?”

Answered Rivers: “Six gay friends said, ‘You look good!’ ”

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The voice on the phone was Casey Kasem’s

June 16, 2014
Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem


NEW YORK, June 16, 2014 — Two things impressed me about Casey Kasem: His manners and his wealth.

He was an easy-going interview, aided in no small part by the quality of his famous voice, which was one of the most soothing in the history of broadcasting.  It was no less easy to listen to on the phone, as he answered my questions in an interview in January 1989.

He was generous with his time, giving me more than an hour for that interview, which was conducted to mark the upcoming premiere of his new  countdown show, “Casey’s Top 40.”

It was the new show he’d put together with Westwood One, the radio company that picked him up after his long-time (and by-then former) employer ABC decided to drop him from the radio show he made famous, “American Top 40,” rather than work through an impasse in contract negotiations.

ABC decided to replace Casey Kasem with Shadoe Stevens, rather than pay Kasem some amount of money that ABC must have deemed ungodly.  One of my stories from back then about the contract negotiations with Westwood indicated that Casey’s new contract with Westwood would be worth $3 million a year, but if memory serves, Casey became a lot wealthier than that.

In fact, he was, for a time — in the era before Oprah, Leno, Letterman and Judge Judy (to mention some of the personalities who became the industry’s biggest money earners) — one of the highest-paid personalities in all of broadcasting, on par with Johnny Carson and, yes, Paul Harvey — the other ABC Radio personality who was once one of the top earners in the entire industry.

When I interviewed Casey in 1989, he was 56 and living with his wife Jean in a 3,000-square-foot penthouse in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.  I asked him how many cars he owned and he answered good-naturedly, “Two black Mercedes — a large one and a small one.”

I asked him who his best friends were and he listed Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr. and Martin Sheen, with whom Casey had joined in anti-nuclear protests and was twice arrested.

Among other things, I learned that the Rev. Jesse Jackson presided over Casey and Jean Kasem’s wedding in 1980 — and Casey campaigned for Jackson when Jackson ran for president in 1988.

I also learned that Casey Kasem — the most famous disc jockey in America — didn’t have time to listen to the radio.  “If I had more time, I might listen to more classical music,” he said.

Obituaries for Casey Kasem, who died over the weekend, repeatedly cited the “long distance dedications” as the most memorable and iconic features of his “Top 40” countdown programs.  But Casey never mentioned the long-distance dedications in my interview with him (the first of two, possibly three interviews I conducted with him).

He seemed prouder of another feature he called the “teaser-bio,” the anecdotes and backstories about pop stars and their Top 40 hits that Casey used to recite on the show — always “teasing” an upcoming anecdote just before going to a commercial break.

“Turning right instead of left can change your whole life,” he told me in 1989 when he related the story of how he found a discarded copy of the 1962 edition of “Who’s Who in Pop Music” in a trash can at the Oakland radio station where he was then working in 1963.  He used what he read in the book to invent these “teaser-bios” — which, to him, were the feature that made “American Top 40,” and made his career.

“This is the famous I-found-my-future-in-a-trash-can story and it’s true, absolutely true,” he insisted.

One of the things about Casey that endeared him to me was his old-school habit of writing thank-you notes.  Very few celebrities, in my experience, do this — and the ones who do are the ones you remember.  I have two of them from Casey — typewritten on 7.25″ x 5″ notecards, bordered in dark blue and red, with the words “Casey Kasem” printed at the top.

“Dear Adam,” he wrote to me in February 1989 after my story ran in the broadcasting trade mag for which I was then working.  “I just wanted to send you my thanks for that great article about my work and other activities.  It’s an excellent summary of my career and concerns.  Keep up the fine work, and have a great year!

“Yours truly,


“Casey Kasem

“P.S.: They’re quoting me on the classical music stations!”

Contact Adam Buckman:

Read Adam Buckman’s book: “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” … Read a sample on his Amazon book page HERE … Then order it today!

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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.


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:

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


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.


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:

‘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.


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:

Lotta people getting their heads blown off on TV

March 18, 2014


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:

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)


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:

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.”



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:

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