Archive for the ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ Category

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:

WHEN A CERTAIN NEWSPAPER TV SECTION WAGED WAR ON THE LETTERMAN SHOW

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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 …

Chapter Four: THE TALK OF THE TOWN

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.]

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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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An aging generation mourns loss of Jay, Dave

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 4, 2014 — What about us?

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

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

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

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

Previously:

The rights and wrongs of Fallon’s debut

Children’s hour: Fallon takes over ‘Tonight’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Annals of Leno: 4 biggest ways NBC insulted Jay

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 29, 2014 — In these final days of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” NBC’s indifference to Leno has been breathtaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Aftermath: 4 million Leno viewers up for grabs

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 29, 2014 — It’s the big question underlying the Jay Leno-Jimmy Fallon switch on “The Tonight Show”: WWTTSFMVD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Who will replace Letterman? Enter Conan

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 5, 2013 — It’s a funny thing about predictions: They have a way of being wrong — especially mine.

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

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

Here’s the case for Conan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late-night wars: Our coverage so far:

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

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

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

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 4, 2013 — They didn’t have to do anything.

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

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

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

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

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

“Tonight Show” turmoil: Our coverage so far:

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

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

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, May 29, 2013 — Jimmy Fallon said two years ago he’d “love” to host “The Tonight Show,” but only when Jay Leno “is ready” to hand over the reins.

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

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

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

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

Previously:

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

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgeddaboutit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

In the bit, which you can watch here, Jay said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

March 20, 2013
Jay Leno (Photo: NBC)

Jay Leno (Photo: NBC)

HE’S BEEN HAMMERING THE NETWORK SINCE MARCH 11

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 11

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

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

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

Don’t forget to visit AdamBuckman.com — just click HERE!

Tuesday, March 12

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

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

Friday, March 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 18

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

Tuesday, March 19

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 20

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

Thursday, March 21

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

Friday, March 22

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

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

Wednesday, March 27

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 28

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

Monday, April 1

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

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

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

Read my previous stories on Jay Leno’s war with NBC, only on Xfinity.Comcast.net:

Leno, Ferguson Discuss Late-Night TV as Tensions Rise at NBC

Leno Battles Replacement Reports With More Monologue Jokes

Returning Leno ‘Reacts’ to Fallon Replacement Plan in Monday Monologue

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

A bit of Johnny on Leno’s ‘Tonight Show’ desk

September 20, 2012

Amy Poehler tried to invoke a bygone era in late-night TV when she smoked a cigarette and sipped a martini on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Wednesday night. In fact, that’s Johnny Carson’s cigarette box on Jay’s desk. Photo: NBC

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Sept. 20, 2012 — Who knew Jay Leno was so sentimental?

Or maybe it has nothing to do with him at all.  Maybe it was someone else who decided it might be nice — perhaps in some kind of talismanic sense — to place something of Johnny Carson’s on Leno’s “Tonight Show” desk, perhaps as a silent, subtle symbol of history, consistency, good luck, or …  whatever.

Forgive me if you already knew this.  Maybe it’s even (somewhat) common knowledge.  But I  have long prided myself on knowing a lot about “The Tonight Show,” even small trivia such as this.  Nevertheless, I never knew until Wednesday night’s “Tonight Show” that the oblong wooden object seen night after night on Leno’s desk is Johnny Carson’s old cigarette box.

Leno said so, while interviewing guest Amy Poehler, who remarked that she wondered what it must have been like in the 1960s and ’70s when guests (and Carson too) smoked on “The Tonight Show.”

“Remember when people used to smoke on talk shows?” Poehler asked.

“I do remember that,” Jay said.  “When I first started, they used to smoke — because this used to be Johnny’s cigarette box,” he said, casually holding up the object.  “Now, legally, we have to have pens in it!”  (You can watch the Leno-Poehler segment HERE.)

This particular cigarette box is probably not Johnny’s first one because there’s a famous story about another cigarette box, from a time in the 1970s when Johnny came back from vacation and found that the cigarette box on his desk was broken.  The culprit was his guest-host from the evening before — Don Rickles.  YouTube has a clip of this here:

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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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