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

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Aftermath: 4 million Leno viewers up for grabs

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Good riddance, 2013: My TV year in review

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 11, 2013 — It was one of the strangest years in my long personal history on the TV beat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casey Kasem

Casey Kasem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Who will replace Letterman? Enter Conan

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

Here’s the case for Conan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late-night wars: Our coverage so far:

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

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

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

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tonight Show” turmoil: Our coverage so far:

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

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

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

Previously:

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

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgeddaboutit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Move ‘The Tonight Show’ to NYC? Fuhgettaboutit

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Complete timeline of Jay Leno’s war with NBC

March 20, 2013
Jay Leno (Photo: NBC)

Jay Leno (Photo: NBC)

HE’S BEEN HAMMERING THE NETWORK SINCE MARCH 11

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 11

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 12

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

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

Friday, March 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 18

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

Tuesday, March 19

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 20

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

Thursday, March 21

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

Friday, March 22

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

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

Wednesday, March 27

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 28

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

Monday, April 1

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Huge trap that could snare Kimmel: His big mouth

January 8, 2013

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

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

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

By ADAM BUCKMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem is: Both tactics are tanking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Best 2012 recap you’ll ever read: MY year in TV

December 24, 2012

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 24, 2012 — Let other critics waste their time on year-end lists of the Top 10 this and the Top 10 that.

My long experience in this business tells me readers aren’t interested in any of that.  What they really want to know is: How was my year in TV?

My year amounted to just shy of 600 stories.

Dennis Farina and Dustin Hoffman in HBO's "Luck" (Photo: HBO)

Dennis Farina and Dustin Hoffman in HBO’s “Luck” (Photo: HBO)

My favorite: The story of the HBO horse-racing drama “Luck,” and how it was cancelled due to the deaths of three horses.  I’ve been covering the TV business as a journalist for the better part of 29 years, and this one was a first — a TV show ceasing production due to animals being injured so grievously that they had to be put down.  It was a shame — for the horses, certainly, and also for anyone who, like me, happened to like the show.  Alas.

Odd as that story was, another one was even odder, and also sad: The attempted suicide of character actor Daniel Von Bargen, who’s been in a lot of movies and TV shows but was best known for playing George Costanza’s boss, Mr. Kruger, in the final season of “Seinfeld.”  There have been no updates on his health since the incident last February, and I hope he’s doing better.

The TV phenomenon of the year was Honey Boo Boo.

Warwick Davis in "Life's Too Short" (Photo: HBO)

Warwick Davis in “Life’s Too Short” (Photo: HBO)

My favorite scripted show of the year was “Life’s Too Short,” the reality-style comedy series about a dwarf.  Produced for HBO by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, this show had dwarf actor Warwick Davis suffering humiliation and embarrassment everywhere he went.  It was just savage.

The year’s most memorable TV event was Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk over Niagara Falls on a Friday night last June.  ABC aired it and everybody watched.

My favorite non-scripted show (though it may have been scripted just a little bit) was “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites,” seen last summer on National Geographic Channel.  Though the Hutterites are not Amish, they were part of the whole “Amish” trend this year in “reality” TV shows.  “Meet the Hutterites” was by far the best of them, though, and I won’t soon forget plucky Claudia, her brother Quentin, their mother Bertha and all the rest of them.

I watched a lot of late-night TV this year, recapped “Saturday Night Live” after practically every show and endured, along with everyone else, the presidential campaign.  The nightly dissection of the battle on the news channels every night was a tough slog.  By contrast, the four debates this past fall — three presidential and one vice presidential — were among the year’s TV highlights.

I also watched too many violent TV shows — “Boardwalk Empire,” “Sons of Anarchy,” Dexter” and heaven knows what else.  It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?  The real world is violent enough.

I would like to thank the following personalities for illuminating interviews: Ray Romano, Chuck Lorre, Jonathan and Drew Scott (the HGTV twins), Mark Feuerstein, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Danny McBride, and Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” (great guy).  I loved encountering about two-thirds of the “Celebrity Apprentice” participants last winter at 30 Rock.  Shout-outs to Lisa Lampanelli, Dee Snider, Clay Aiken, Paul Teutel Sr. and Victoria Gotti for a great afternoon.

I met Aaron Sorkin for the first time this year too, and he was a great interview.  I also came face-to-face with Wilson Phillips and all three of them were a pleasure to talk to, though their reality series on TV Guide Channel was short-lived.

You get the opportunity to meet a great many interesting people in this business — and two of the most interesting personalities I ever encountered were among the TV personalities who died this year.  I loved meeting Sherman Hemsley back in ’96, and years before that, Dick Clark, who posed for a picture with me back in ’83 when I was very young and very green, and he treated me like I was the most important person in the world.  This was a guy who knew how to be a celebrity.

We lost Bert Gould this year, my co-host on the radio show we threw together in the summer of 2002 on WOR in New York.

For 13 glorious weeks, we were “The TV Guys,” two self-styled experts on the TV business who talked about television, interviewed a couple of celebrities (Larry David and Michael Chiklis, most notably) and took viewer phone calls.

Short-lived as the show was, it was a highlight of my professional life and in no small way I have Bert to thank for it.

Without his brashness and enthusiasm, this idea for a radio show about television — an idea he concocted while we were talking randomly about TV on a bus to midtown one weekday morning — would have gone nowhere.  As it was, it went somewhere, if only for a short time.  Thanks, Bert.

As 2012 comes to a close, I ask myself the same question I ask every year at this time: A year from now, will I be doing this again?  Really?  Surely, there is something more to life than television …

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Close to the end: Larry Hagman’s last hurrah

December 18, 2012
Larry Hagman in one of his final episodes of “Dallas,” just a few weeks before his death. (Photo: TNT)

Larry Hagman in one of his final episodes of “Dallas,” just a few weeks before his death. (Photo: TNT)

WHAT YOU’LL SEE IF YOU WATCH ‘DALLAS’ JAN. 28

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 12, 2012 — Larry Hagman must have had strength and courage to spare because, except for looking a little thin, you would not otherwise think he was close to death when you watch the upcoming first episodes of his final season on “Dallas.”

Sure, he looks elderly (he was 81) in the two episodes TNT sent out for preview.  But, we know now, he was also terminally ill, and would die of cancer just five weeks after shooting the second of those two episodes.  He died in Dallas on Nov. 23, midway into the shooting of the sixth episode of the upcoming second season.

The season starts on Monday, Jan. 28, with two back-to-back episodes starting at 9 p.m. eastern.  In the episodes, Hagman — as J.R. Ewing — has considerably more to do in the second one than the first.

To be precise, I tallied just two scenes with J.R. (plus one quick glimpse) in the first episode, titled “Battle Lines.”  But he figured in seven scenes in Episode 2, titled “Venomous Creatures.”  Filming on the second episode wrapped on Oct. 15, five weeks before his death.  In those five weeks, he participated in the filming of three additional episodes and at least part of a fourth.  (His final shooting date, before his illness prevented him from continuing, has not been disclosed.)

In both of the episodes I watched the other day, J.R. is positioned as a kind of  mentor for the just-as-devious John Ross — his son played by Josh Henderson.  In Episode One, J.R. turns up to deliver a couple of pointed, but throwaway lines — one about snakes, and the other an off-color comment about how much fun it used to be to chase pretty secretaries around the office.

In Episode Two, the “Dallas” writers not only gave him more to do, but more to say, including lines that are so colorful they border on ludicrous (or march resolutely across that border).  “Love, hate, jealousy — mix ’em up [and] they make a mean martini!” he hisses, in one of his conversations with John Ross, as the two plot an underhanded takeover of the Ewing family business.  “And when we take over Ewing Energies, you’ll slake your thirst – with a twist!” J.R. adds, for good measure.

In another conversation with John Ross, J.R. notes his son’s anger with a former love, Elena (Jordana Brewster), who’s now married to John Ross’ cousin and rival, Chris Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe).   “She really did a number on you, didn’t she?” J.R. says to John Ross.  “Carved your heart out with a spoon, then licked it clean!” J.R. added (though his point was already made).

In retrospect, though, the lines were probably fun for Hagman to recite.  And if he was feeling any physical pain, or if he knew he would soon die and these scenes would be among his last, there’s no evidence of that in his performance.

He filmed these scenes (and the ones to come) so close to his death that you might say Larry Hagman died doing what he loved best — playing J.R. Ewing literally to the very end.

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!”

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.

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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Sherman Hemsley and me: Movin’ on up

July 24, 2012

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, July 24, 2012 — It was the first (and likely the only) time Sherman Hemsley ever laid eyes on the Manhattan apartment building that was made famous in the opening titles of “The Jeffersons.”  Here’s how this came to be:

It was in September 1996, and I had arranged to spend part of a day with him in New York, interviewing him about his career and his then-current sitcom “Goode Behavior,” which had premiered that August on UPN.

Sherman Hemsley and a reporter (OK, it was me) in front of the “movin’ on up” apartment house in Manhattan in September 1996. Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

After conducting a lengthy interview in his hotel room in midtown (among other revelations, he informed me his favorite recording artists were Emerson Lake and Palmer), I persuaded him to accompany a New York Post photographer, Elizabeth Lipp- man, and myself in a taxicab from his hotel to the apartment house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that was supposed to be the home of George and Louise Jefferson.  I wanted Sherman to pose for a picture in front of the building — a picture we would use to accompany my story — and he was amenable.

So we hailed a cab outside the hotel and while we were driving up to 85th and Third, he blithely informed me that he had never visited the actual building before.  I was surprised to hear that because, for New Yorkers, the opening titles of “The Jeffersons” had turned this high-rise apartment building, whose entrance is on East 85th Street between Third and Lexington avenues, into one of the most recognizable residences in New York City.

In the opening titles, Hemsley, as George Jefferson, and wife Louise (Isabel Sanford), are even seen driving in a Checker cab up to the building’s entrance and strutting inside (well, George strutted; Louise did not) — or so it seemed.

Sherman explained, however, that neither he nor Louise ever came to New York to film their portion of the opening sequence.  The images of the two riding in a taxicab, accompanied by the famed “Movin’ On Up” theme song sung by Ja’net Dubois, were shot in L.A.  And so was the footage of George and Louise entering an apartment building through double glass doors.  If memory serves, he told me that entrance was for a high-rise condo somewhere on Wilshire Boulevard.

Separately, the facade and front driveway of the New York building were also filmed, and the footage from New York and L.A. was edited together to form the famous opening for the show.

But until 1996, Sherman Hemsley had never been to the actual building his TV show turned into a New York City landmark.

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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Annals of Oprah: Why OWN isn’t working

May 7, 2012

Has Oprah lost her touch? Probably.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, May 7, 2012 — Oprah Winfrey’s OWN isn’t working for the simple reason that Oprah herself seems passé.

Why opine on this subject now?  Because the news is all over the place this week that losses are mounting at OWN.

Among other places, a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal says Discovery has sunk $312 million into OWN with no predictions of profitability except for a lukewarm forecast that losses are expected to continue through 2012.

So has Oprah lost her touch?  In a word, yes.  How?  Well, that’s always hard to say.  For some, the decline in her influence stems from the repetitive statements she issues continually, in public appearances and interviews, about “her journey” and “her mission” and her “legacy.”  Truth be told, it all feels tired, not to mention off-putting.

It also comes across as self-centered and egotistical, as if the viewing audience has some kind of stake in helping to ensure Oprah Winfrey achieves fulfillment in her “journey” and accomplishes her “mission,” which has something to do with empowerment and living one’s “best life” and yada yada yada.

Taken together, the shows on OWN play like the TV equivalent of having to eat your spinach.  And here’s an observation I once made about self-help: I once was acquainted with a guy whose bookshelves in his New York City apartment were filled with self-help books — perhaps the most I’d seen in any one place that had been purchased over the years by a single person.

Perhaps he was sincere in his search for guidance when he bought these books, but I was fairly certain he hadn’t read very many of them.  More than likely, he read part of them, perhaps the introduction and first chapter, and then never finished them.  Why?  Because self-help books, like self-help TV shows, are decidedly unentertaining (is that a word?).  In fact, I can say from personal experience with the few self-help books I have tried to read that reading them is a chore.

Try watching “Oprah’s Life Class” — yes, a “class” about “life” led by Oprah, with the assistance of some guest motivational speaker — and you’ll see what I mean.

When you really stop and look at it, there never really was any evidence, much less a guarantee, that Oprah Winfrey could build an entire TV network from the ground up in the first place.  She was hugely successful in a variety of endeavors in the TV business, but launching an entire network was not on her resume.

Oh, yes, there was plenty of evidence that Oprah was capable of making a lot of money for herself and anyone who had the good fortune to go into business with her.  She’d done so with her syndicated daytime show, which probably generated — what? — a billion dollars or more over its 25 years.  And she added to that sum with the other daytime shows and personalities she championed and developed — Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray.

But even more than those successes, the impression that Oprah could mine gold from virtually anything she touched began to form long ago, when her (seemingly) off-the-cuff endorsements of exotic soaps or artisanal popcorn could make the entrepreneurs behind these products suddenly flush with orders, not to mention money.

Nothing represented Oprah’s power in this regard more than her impact on the book business.  Sure, that was fun while it lasted, especially if you were the publisher of some book Oprah just happened to read recently and then mention on her talk show.

But like afternoon talk shows, the book business has changed a lot in the last few years.  Who knows if Oprah could drive book sales today, when books themselves are looking more and more passé.

Certainly, a prominent TV personality falling victim to changing tastes is no crime, especially if you’re Oprah and already a billionaire.  You know, most people don’t get a chance to strike it rich twice in a lifetime.  And it could be that Oprah’s best life was the life she had when she dominated daytime TV for one hour every afternoon.

Now, those halcyon days are gone, and it appears increasingly unlikely that Oprah will be able to return to anything resembling them anytime soon.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Missing from ‘Mad Men’: Don and Betty’s marriage

April 5, 2012

REMEMBER WHEN: The marriage of Don (Jon Hamm) and Betty Draper (January Jones) was imperfect, but that was the whole point. (Photo: AMC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 5, 2012 — What’s wrong with “Mad Men” this season?

A couple of things, actually, but most notably: The defunct marriage of Don and Betty Draper, which, once upon a time, was the very heart of this show.

It’s gone and with it goes one of the great reasons for watching this show.

This finally occurred to me after watching the first two lifeless weeks of the new, fifth season of “Mad Men,” which is gracing us with its critically acclaimed presence after disappearing for 18 months.

The marriage of Betty and Don (January Jones and Jon Hamm) was once the centerpiece of this show.  It was what the show was about, principally, whenever you’d try and describe it concisely.

What’s “Mad Men” about? you’d be asked.  And you’d answer something like: Well, it’s about this guy, Don Draper, a quintessential Madison Avenue “ad man” of the 1960s struggling to balance his dual lives — one as a swashbuckling white-collar professional in midtown Manhattan, and the other as a family man with a pretty wife and two children who live far from the madding crowd in leafy Westchester.

And it didn’t hurt that the ad man and his wife were like the living, breathing versions of Ken and Barbie — perfection on the outside, while inwardly, they existed in a marriage fraught with tension.  He was concealing his various extramarital affairs, though she had her suspicions; and she was feeling unfulfilled and lonely as a home-bound suburban housewife.

Even when Don’s affairs became known to Betty, it may have been possible to preserve the marriage, at least for the sake of the show.  So what if that would make an already tense marriage even more tense.  Tension happens to be a terrific ingredient to have around when you’re concocting a drama series for TV.

Now, with the two of them divorced and remarried to others, that whole situation’s been tossed out the window.  Moreover, Don married a young, comely co-worker — which does away with another essential part of Don’s lifestyle: His ability to freely pursue his extramarital relationships in New York City, untethered and unobserved by his wife (in the era long before cellphones).  Are we really supposed to believe that Don’s done with his philandering?   And if he is, then is that part of the show now gone too?

It reminds me a little bit of “The Sopranos,” coincidentally a show on which “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner once worked.  “The Sopranos” was also about a guy who struggled to balance his home life and “business” life, but in this case, he was a Mafia don who sought the help of a psychiatrist because he had deep-seated issues with his over-bearing mother.

But then, the actress who played the mother, Nancy Marchand, unfortunately died and Tony Soprano’s mother died with her.  Of course, the show persisted after that, but the principal reason for telling Tony’s story in the first place was gone, and the show was never the same.

As if doing away with Don and Betty’s marriage wasn’t enough, now the makers of “Mad Men” have even done way with Betty — turning perhaps the most beautiful actress on TV into an overweight suburban housewife.  Sure, I understand the storyline behind it, but is this storyline worth doing that to January Jones?

What else is wrong with “Mad Men,” three episodes into the new season (yes, that two-hour premiere night counted as episodes 501 and 502)?

A couple of things gleaned from Episode 503 last Sunday (April 1):

Some things just aren’t ringing true: The pot smoking, for example.  Sure, we all know, or simply assume, that the 1960s saw a big rise in casual marijuana smoking, but mostly among the college generation.  But for two consecutive weeks now, actual grownups have been seen smoking joints within full view of colleagues from work — most recently Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) backstage at the Stones’ concert last Sunday, and a week earlier, Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), who casually mentioned that he’d like to go and smoke some “tea” at Don and Megan’s party.

Was casual pot-smoking of this kind really so sociably acceptable among actual adults in 1966?  Though I’m no expert on this, that doesn’t seem accurate to me.  It seems to me that for men like Don Draper, witnessing a colleague smoking dope in the 1960s would have raised suspicions that that co-worker was some kind of a druggie.  That’s how “drugs” — even pot — were perceived back then, or so I’ve long thought.

Roger used a line in a conversation with Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) that didn’t seem true to its era either.  It was when he was instructing Peggy to make sure she hires a male copywriter for an open position on the Mohawk Airlines account.  “Someone with a penis,” he said, describing the client’s preference.

Well, that sounds more like what a TV writer would compose for a character speaking in the present day.  Certainly, the line was written for Roger Sterling (John Slattery) as an example of his own casual, crass  chauvinism.  But somehow I doubt a man in the 1960s would have put it that way.  He just would have said Peggy needs to hire a man and that would be that.  It’s today’s world in which the word “penis” is used with that kind of abandon (particularly on television, as a matter of fact).  The usage here in “Mad Men” strikes me as careless writing.

Speaking of careless writing that should have been edited: The crack Betty’s husband, the  political operative Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), made about George Romney, then governor of Michigan and the father of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was completely out of place and ill-considered.  Why? Because we viewers all know that it represented a dig at Mitt Romney on the part of “Mad Men’s” writers and producers.

The line came when Henry, who apparently works for New York Mayor John Lindsay, told someone on the phone that he didn’t want Mayor Lindsay photographed with Gov. Romney at some sort of public appearance.   “Romney’s a clown and I don’t want him standing next to him!” Henry declares.

Here’s why the line should not have been used: Because it makes us, the viewers, suddenly think of the present day while we’re supposed to be immersed in the world of 1966.  For that reason alone, the producers should have resisted the temptation to include it.

And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: It was also an obnoxious political viewpoint — again, with contemporary implications — inserted into a TV show where it had no business being inserted.

I could go on about all the things wrong with “Mad Men” this season.  But I’ll save them for next week.  And who knows?  Maybe the show will be back in top form this Sunday.  And wouldn’t that be great?

Previously: ‘Mad Men’ new season shocker: It’s boring

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Nothing huge, just a small thing about HBO . . .

April 1, 2012

TRAGEDY and COMEDY:  Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” left) and Warwick Davis (“Life’s Too Short”) have ’em covered for HBO. (Photos: HBO)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 1, 2012 — Who else but your humble TV Howl correspondent would notice that, as one dwarf actor leaves the “stage” at HBO, another arrives to take his place?

The two little people in question: Warwick Davis — 42, 3’6″ star of “Life’s Too Short,” the seven-episode comedy from Ricky Gervais that ended its first season last Sunday on HBO; and Peter Dinklage, also 42, 4’5″ star of “Game of Thrones,” the drama about warring factions in something resembling England in the Middle Ages that returns for its second season this Sunday night (April 1) on HBO.

Why point out this unique and no doubt coincidental “changing of the guard” (as it were)?  No reason except that it gives me a chance to give “Life’s Too Short” some ink here.  And, to a lesser extent, “Game of Thrones” too.

I have no idea how many people tuned in for all seven episodes of “Life’s Too Short,” but I did and I loved every jaw-dropping moment of it.  This show was so “wrong” in its political incorrectness that I found myself wondering if Gervais had merely proposed it to HBO almost as a joke to see if they would say yes, simply because the folks at HBO like being in business with him.

And then the joke was on him because they did say yes.   So he and Stephen Merchant then had to actually produce this thing.  What they made was a “reality” spoof that had Davis starring as himself in a mock documentary about his life as a dwarf actor who had appeared in a number of movies with famous titles (parts of “Star Wars” and the “Harry Potter” series, to name two of them).

But in the show, he was seen struggling to find work despite those credits, while also trying to make his way in a world configured for bigger people.  If you missed this show, you missed incredible cameo appearances by Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sting (especially him) and Johnny Depp (especially him too).  (What are you waiting for?  Go watch it on On Demand.)

And you missed Warwick — a dwarf,  mind you, who’s making fun of what it’s like to be a dwarf — doing the kind of slapstick, physical comedy that hasn’t been seen since the silent era: Stumbling out of his SUV, climbing a bookcase to reach a trophy in one unforgettable scene, falling backward in his chair onto the floor of a restaurant and taking the tablecloth and dishes with him.

Much of “Life’s Too Short” was so painful to watch that you just sat there and thought, How on earth are they getting away with this?  In the season’s final scene, Warwick, penniless and homeless, was seen bunking in a friend’s dresser drawer.  I can’t wait for season two — if there is one.

Meanwhile, along comes Dinklage, who steals every scene in which he appears in “Game of Thrones.”  I’m a latecomer to this baffling, sprawling series about various factions of warriors and their kings who are all maneuvering into clashes with one another like some giant chess game.

But in the season premiere airing Sunday — which I got to see in advance the other day — Dinklage emerged as the most riveting character in the whole thing.  And that’s saying a lot because this is the kind of series that’s well-populated with serious actors — the kind of people whose bearing and voices suggest some sort of classical training on the British stage.

Not Dinklage, though.  He’s from New Jersey.

OK, so HBO has two dwarf actors appearing in consecutive series.  Does this mean anything?  How should I know?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Derailed: ‘Community’ run over by Subway

March 29, 2012

Joel McHale (Photo: NBC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 29, 2012 — You’ve heard of a subway hijacking (at least in the movies)?  Well, in this case, the shoe’s on the other foot: Subway has hijacked “Community.”

Or maybe “hijacked” is too strong a word because this wasn’t exactly a hostile takeover.  It was a business deal, with NBC agreeing to give the omnipresent sandwich chain an omnipresence in tonight’s episode of the Joel McHale sitcom.

It’s one of the most grandiose “product-placement” arrangements ever staged.  This one is so long, and so sustained — establishing a presence, and a plotline, for Subway throughout the entire half-hour — that it actually goes way beyond categorization as a mere “product placement.”

If that’s all it was, maybe we’d see a student or two in the Greendale Community College cafeteria tucking into a couple of foot-longs.  But in this Subway hijacking, the sandwich chain opens a shop smack dab in the middle of the cafeteria.  And the “owner/manager” is a guy who legally changed his name to Subway.

That way, the sandwich shop’s name — already visible on a huge sign stretching across half the cafeteria — can be mentioned in practically every scene.  And when the Subway name isn’t being uttered, various characters are fondly fist-bumping each other and wryly reciting the two-word slogan for Subway, “Eat fresh.”

While Subway dominates the episode, two other corporations get on-air script mentions as well —  Bed Bath &  Beyond, and Brita, the water filter company.

On the latter “opportunity”: This one was probably inevitable because it plays on a character’s name, Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs.

Subway is emerging this season as a kind of champion of in-show advertising.  In January, three characters in “Hawaii Five-0” on CBS took a break from police work to have a lengthy conversation about the health benefits of Subway sandwiches.  This Subway scene stopped the episode in its tracks, though it’s reasonable to assume that CBS made a lot of money on it.

And a friend mentioned the other day that Subway also had an in-show presence on Tuesday night’s “Biggest Loser” on NBC (though this kind of sponsorship has long been a staple of unscripted shows — from “Project Runway” to “The Apprentice”).

But this Subway hijacking of “Community” is the most blatant such thing I’ve seen.

When these things arise, the question always is: So what’s wrong with it?

It really comes down to this: TV is already overrun by commercials that come in ever-greater quantities and with increased frequency these days.  With so many commercials to deal with already, do we really have to have them within the shows too?  I mean — really?

This episode of “Community” airs at 8 p.m. eastern, Thursday (March 29) on NBC.

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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‘Mad Men’ new-season shocker: It’s boring

March 20, 2012

‘Mad’ men (l-r): Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) (Photos: AMC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 20, 2012 — Here’s a surprise about this Sunday’s season premiere of “Mad Men” that might spoil the show for you: It’s terrible.

Yes, I know — it’s a shocker.  It might even be the first time any critic anywhere has ever used the word “terrible” to describe “Mad Men,” but there it is.  Sorry.

I hate to spoil a viewing experience for anyone, especially for a show whose return (after more than 18 months away) seems so highly anticipated.  But I can’t help myself: For the first time in my own personal history with this show, stretching back to its glorious beginnings in summer 2007, I was bored stiff watching the two-hour premiere that AMC sent over for preview.

The DVD came with a “letter” from the show’s creator and executive producer, Matthew Weiner, who requested, politely, that critics who view the preview DVD please refrain from revealing various plot points and other developments that might spoil the experience for the show’s fans.  Well, Matt, your secrets are safe with me because nothing much happens in these two hours anyway.

I’ll tell you what happened to me when I was watching it, though:  Some time during a lengthy party sequence (yes, there’s a party in the show — I hope that revelation doesn’t spoil the “experience” for anyone), I realized that I couldn’t have been more bored, and have rarely been so bored, in the process of watching a TV show.  And since it was “Mad Men,” which once upon a time was one of the finest, most electrifying TV series ever produced, this surprising onset of extreme ennui came as a huge shock.

I was so disappointed in what happened to this show that I started contemplating some of the words I might eventually use to describe it in this blogpost.  And besides “terrible” and “boring,” another one came to mind that is even worse: “Disaster.”

Before continuing, here’s a caveat: By all means, watch the two-hour premiere (it starts at 9/8c on Sunday, March 25, on AMC).  And you are more than welcome to enjoy it too.  You just might love it.  But I have a feeling many will not.

And that’s where the word “disaster” comes in.  The last thing an arty TV series like this needs is to come back on the air after an 18-plus-month absence and then bore its core audience to death.  However, that outcome is a distinct possibility.

Why? Well, to delve fully into those reasons might involve revealing details and plot points that Matthew Weiner might not want divulged.  So I’ll try and work around them.

Generally speaking, the whole thing seemed listless, sloppy and predictable.

In the listless department, the aforementioned party is exhibit A.  At just about the time I looked at my watch for the first time ever in the viewing of “Mad Men,” I realized that this party had begun to resemble an old Dutch still-life, with the guests standing or sitting around doing nothing.  At such times, you rely on a literate series such as “Mad Men” to entertain you with dialogue.  That didn’t happen either in this scene or any other in the two-hour show.

The party took place at a new Manhattan apartment apparently purchased between seasons Four and Five by Don Draper (Jon Hamm).  And at this point in this blog post, I was tempted to reveal what happened with Don and his new love, Megan (Jessica Paré).  Remember her?  She was a secretary in the ad agency in Season Four.  As that season came to a close way back on Oct. 17, 2010, she and Don were in love and he asked her to marry him.  (Forgot about that?  That’s understandable since it was 18-1/4 months ago.)  In his letter to critics, Matthew Weiner asked that we not divulge what happened there.  And like the good sport I am, I humbly acquiesce.

Anyway, like so many of the settings in this marathon “Mad Men” fifth-season premiere, Don’s new digs look more like a stage set than a New York apartment.  And so does the office of the ad agency, Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce.  It’s immaculate, like it’s a display at Ikea or one of those Design Within Reach stores, where they sell knockoffs of iconic mid-century furniture designs.  One thing it doesn’t look like: A Manhattan office where work is performed.

It doesn’t sound like one either.  If you watch the show, try and observe the sound made when people walk around — most notably in the SCDP offices.  Even petite Elisabeth Moss (who plays Peggy Olson) can be heard clomping around like she’s wearing army boots.  That’s because the floors give off a sound like they’re hollow, like a stage set, but not at all like the floors in a Manhattan office building.  They’re usually concrete.

Speaking of architecture, one character refers to an architectural feature in one of the SCDP offices as a “beam” when it is actually a column.  That’s sloppy writing.  Rule of thumb: Beams go across ceilings; columns are those things that go up and down.

And as far as this show’s predictability goes, that can be a problem when a series such as this — one that is about 95 percent character development and about 5 percent plot — has been around for four seasons and is starting its fifth.  We already know so much about the personalities of the principal characters — warts and all — that everything they do in this two-hour premiere seems old hat.

In his “letter” to critics, Matthew Weiner implored us not to divulge plot points that could ruin any surprises for those tuning in on Sunday to herald “Mad Men’s” return.  The thing is: The only surprise I experienced in the season premiere was my own disappointment.

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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‘Luck’ creator has uneven track record at HBO

March 18, 2012

Kevin Dunn in HBO’s “Luck” (Photo: HBO)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 18, 2012 — Is David Milch out of luck?

Well, HBO keeps going back to him, despite the pay-cable channel’s uneven track record with the critically acclaimed producer/writer of TV shows people either love or hate.

Milch’s latest creation, the HBO horse-racing series “Luck,” made television history last week when it was abruptly cancelled due to the deaths of three horses during the filming of the show.  The latest, an accident in which a horse fatally injured itself while being walked back to its stall (it was euthanized), happened last Tuesday.

A day later, HBO made the stunning announcement: Production on “Luck” was being shut down for good.

The show was in the midst of filming one of the early episodes in its second season, even as the first season was still underway.  “Luck,” airing Sunday nights at 9 on HBO, has its second-to-last episode on Sunday (March 18) and its final, first-season episode — now its last episode ever — the following weekend (March 25).  Only nine episodes were made for the first season, and HBO was so excited about the show (for, among other reasons, it had succeeded in luring Dustin Hoffman to star in his first TV show) that the cable channel renewed it for a second season almost immediately after the very first episode aired back in late January.

Now, that’s not going to happen as “Luck” goes into the history books as the first TV series ever cancelled due to the deaths of animals used in its production.

In the wake of this week’s cancellation announcement, two subjects to contemplate: (1) Will “Luck” be missed?  And (2) what of David Milch, the bard of Buffalo (the New York city where he was raised), for whom “Luck” was his fourth go-round with HBO (that we know of)?

First, on the merits of “Luck”: Like Milch’s other shows, this one was an acquired taste.  And according to at least one report we read the other day, “Luck” drew more than a million viewers for its premiere and then, eventually, the audience fell to about half that.  The story even suggested HBO was seeking an excuse to cancel “Luck,” and the unlucky horses provided the reason the channel needed to pull the plug.  That’s just conjecture, but my take is: That’s not a far-fetched scenario at all.

Why’d so many people abandon the show?  For the love/hate reason suggested above.  The thing people love about Milch’s shows, primarily, is the intriguing, highly literate dialogue he writes for his characters.  Lovers of great writing appreciate when his characters engage in his trademark verbal sparring, even when they go off on irrelevant tangents, such as last week’s out-of-left-field conversation in which two characters debated the details of the Three Stooges’ “Niagara Falls” comedy bit.

The unusual tone and tempo of the dialogue is also why millions get turned off by Milch.  For one thing, it’s not what they’re used to hearing on TV shows.  For another, his shows often suffer from an action deficit.  Often, you go entire episodes without much happening.  Instead, the hour is sucked up by dialogues that, yes, are very creative, but also stultifying.

That was the thing with “Luck”: The acting was great, for the most part  (Hoffman, Michael Gambon, Jason Gedrick, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Jill Hennessy and all the rest), the horse-racing scenes were electrifying, and the cinematography was beautiful.  Still, not much happened.  And that’s a turn-off for many.  (Why include the phrase “for the most part” above?  Because the one cast member I didn’t care for was Nick Nolte, who played a gravel-voiced horse trainer.)

As for Milch, his track record with HBO is fascinating: First, there was “Deadwood,” everyone’s favorite Western series and the one that changed forever our perceptions of how the Old West should be portrayed from here on out.  Well, that series got cancelled suddenly before Milch had planned to end it, and fans howled in protest.  HBO promised some future “Deadwood” TV movies, but no one believed that, and indeed, they never happened.

Then there was Milch’s one-season series about a dysfunctional family of southern California surfers and their interactions with a godlike alien – “John From Cincinnati.”    For most people, that show was even less accessible than “Luck.”  (But again, like with all Milch shows, opinions vary widely.  I happened to love “John From Cincinnati” and consider it to be one of the finest TV shows ever produced.  Go figure.)

He then tried his hand at another cop show (he’d long been associated with “NYPD Blue” on ABC) called “Last of the Ninth” (referring to the Ninth Precinct of the NYPD).  He produced a pilot for HBO, but the network declined.  Then they said yes to “Luck” and that show bit the dust because of dead animals.

Will HBO take up any new business with Milch after all of this?  Well, it’s not his fault the horses died, but on this question, as with all Milch questions, there are two camps: Those who love him hope HBO will try again with him.  Those who can’t stand his shows won’t mourn the passing of “Luck.”

If you’ve been following “Luck” up to this point, I suggest you carry it through to the end, even though the March 25 finale does not serve as a series ender.  Truth is, you only really have to expend two more hours with this star-crossed show.  And then it’s good-bye and good luck to “Luck.”

“Luck” airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO (for two more weeks, alas).

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com


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