Posts Tagged ‘Conan O’Brien’

Cavalcade Of Stars: All 5 Of This Week’s TV Blogs

December 9, 2016
BRAU HAUS: This week's TV blogs ranged from Berlin to Baltimore and Austin, Texas. Read 'em all, below.

BRAU HAUS: This week’s TV blogs ranged from Berlin and Baltimore to Austin, Texas. Read ’em all, below.


NEW YORK, Dec. 9, 2016 — From Conan O’Brien’s trip to Berlin to the astonishing sponsorship power of “Project Runway,” here are this week’s MediaPost TV blogs:

Monday, Dec. 5: Beer and Sausages: Predictable Stereotypes Derail Conan’s Berlin Special

Tuesday, Dec. 6: NBC’s New Tradition Of December Musicals Continues With ‘Hairspray’

Wednesday, Dec. 7: Ho-Hum: Tina Fey Tells Letterman TV Is Better Than The Movies

Thursday, Dec. 8: Rumor Or Fake News? Parsing The Stories About Corden Replacing Colbert

Friday, Dec. 9: ‘Project Runway’: TV’s Relentless Engine Of Commerce

Contact Adam Buckman:

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

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‘X-Files’ Redo, FX Clown Comedy Both Disappoint

January 22, 2016
This week's MediaPost TV blogs covered the annual NATPE programming conference, a new A&E reality show, Conan O'Brien, Zach Galifianakis and "The X-Files."

This week’s MediaPost TV blogs covered the annual NATPE programming conference, a new A&E reality show, Conan O’Brien, Zach Galifianakis and “The X-Files.”


NEW YORK, Jan. 22, 2016 — This week’s MediaPost blogs ranged from clowns (“Baskets,” Conan O’Brien) to outer-space aliens (“The X-Files”). Read all five of this week’s blogs, with these links:

Monday, Jan. 18: Syndicator-Station Relationship No Longer Center Stage At NATPE Show

Tuesday, Jan. 19: In New Show, Trainers Gain Weight Just To Feel Empathy For Obese Clients

Wednesday, Jan. 20: Rediscovering Conan O’Brien, The Last Real Late-Night Host

Thursday, Jan. 21: ‘Baskets’ On FX: The Clown Comedy That Forgot To Be Funny

Friday, Jan. 22: Was This ‘X-Files’ Reunion Necessary? The Answer Is: No, It Wasn’t

Contact Adam Buckman:

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

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Multi-talented Colbert is right man for the job

April 10, 2014
Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of CBS's "Late Show" next year.

Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman as host of CBS’s “Late Show” next year.


NEW YORK, April 10, 2014 — It takes more than just stand-up comedy talent to qualify as a late-night host these days.

That’s the lesson of the announcement today that Stephen Colbert has been anointed David Letterman’s successor as host of “Late Show” on CBS.  With Letterman announcing just last week his intention to retire next year, CBS moved quickly to sign Colbert to a five-year contract — representing an extraordinary amount of faith in Colbert’s potential for not only maintaining CBS’s position in the late-night competition at 11:35, but also improving it.

For that role, Colbert, 49, emerges as the best man for the job.  Why?  Because he is multi-talented, which is suddenly a requirement for hosting a late-night show — a trend driven mainly by Jimmy Fallon.

Colbert might not possess Fallon’s talent for mimicry and celebrity impressions, but Colbert is an accomplished professional in all the other aspects of show business — particularly singing, dancing and acting.  He’s a shrewd showman who writes best-selling books, created a highly profitable show (“The Colbert Report”) built around a fictional character he developed and plays personally, and seems to create excitement and draw crowds wherever he goes.

With his abundance of theatrical talent (he’s formally trained in all the basics, from Northwestern), Colbert is more than a match for the multifaceted Fallon where it now counts the most — in the production of comedy-performance bits so arresting that they stand up to multiple viewings on video and social-media Web sites in the hours and days after they air for the first time on TV.

This is where Colbert’s “Late Show” and Fallon’s “Tonight Show” will battle it out most.  As for the time period’s other competitor, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” CBS’s hiring of Colbert gives Kimmel an opportunity to stand out from the others.  As Kimmel has long emphasized, he is more a “broadcaster” than a “comedian” — a recognition that he possesses none of  the basic performing skills of his competitors.  Still, his bits are wildly creative and they play well (and often better than Fallon’s) in the all-important video after-markets.

Two more things on this hiring of Colbert:

1) Some are concerned that Colbert won’t be able to make the transition from the “Stephen Colbert” character he plays on Comedy Central to the real Colbert.  That happens to be a non-issue.  He’ll do fine as the “real” guy behind the “Late Show” desk.

2) What about Conan? Thank you to all of the hundreds of you who visited TVHowl over the past week to read my post from a year ago suggesting that Conan O’Brien would be a great choice to replace Letterman when the time comes for Letterman to call it a day.  Alas — it is not to be.  The Conan story is an interesting one: There was a time when he really was the late-night heir-apparent — if not “The Tonight Show” (we all know what happened there) then the “Letterman” show.  Unfortunately, if this was still an ambition of Conan’s, to break into the network fray at 11:35 p.m., then this once-every-20-years generational shift in late-night TV seems to have passed him by.

Contact Adam Buckman:

A few more from the Xfinity/Comcast archive

April 9, 2013
Clockwise from upper left: Late-night hosts react to the Leno-Fallon news, "Saturday Night Live" with Melissa McCarthy and Peter Dinklage, Kathy Griffin, Justin Bieber and a monkey (Photos: NBC, CBS, TBS, ABC, Getty, Bravo)

Clockwise from upper left: Late-night hosts react to the Leno-Fallon news, “Saturday Night Live” with Melissa McCarthy and Peter Dinklage, Kathy Griffin, Justin Bieber and a monkey (Photos: NBC, CBS, TBS, ABC, Getty, Bravo)


NEW YORK, April 9, 2013 — isn’t the only place you can read my take on the late-night wars — and just about every other TV topic under the sun too.

Don’t miss these recent stories, only on Late-Night Shockwave: Hosts React to Leno-Fallon News; ‘SNL’ Recap: Peter Dinklage is ‘Uncle Drunklage’: Watch; Bravo Cancels Kathy Griffin’s Talk Show; and my personal favorite, Justin Bieber’s Monkey Evolves Into Hot Late-Night Topic — about all the jokes they made on the late-night shows about Bieber’s monkey being detained at a German airport.

Don’t miss ’em!

Contact Adam Buckman:

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)


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:

Howling wolves: Max Weinberg, HBO’s ‘Chalky’

October 10, 2010





NEW YORK, Oct. 10, 2010 — Why did bandleader Max Weinberg decide not to follow Conan O’Brien to TBS?

Blame it on the irresistible lure of the Garden State.  In the final analysis, this lifelong Jersey boy says he just couldn’t pull up stakes in his home state at age 59 for a new life in La La Land, though he did follow Conan there for his short-lived stint as host of ‘The Tonight Show’ on NBC – a gig which abruptly came to an end last January.

The famed drummer – a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1974 (since Springsteen’s third album, “Born to Run”) and a fixture in late-night TV as Conan’s musical director (and sometime comic foil) for 17 years – talked about his decision to withdraw from late-night, revealing for the first time that he underwent life-saving open-heart surgery just two weeks after the demise of Conan’s ‘Tonight Show’ last winter and how this “life-changing” experience influenced his decision to stay put on the East Coast.

The occasion for the interview was the pending premiere Thursday of a new documentary about Springsteen on HBO – ‘The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town’ (9/8c).  Weinberg, who appears often in the 90-minute film, shared his own memories of the lengthy process from which the ‘Darkness’ album was born – three years after ‘Born to Run’ turned Springsteen and his bandmates into international rock stars.

It was finally confirmed a week or so ago that you’re not joining Conan on his new TBS late-night show.  What happened there?  Will we ever see you on TV again, other than documentaries about Bruce Springsteen?

[Laughs] I’m sure you’ll see me on television again.  You won’t see me on an episodic show, that’s for sure.  I did my time.  I loved it.  It was great.  Frankly, I do prefer living in New Jersey and that was one of the problems I had.  I love playing in L.A., but my kids and my wife are back east, and we live part of the time in Italy, so it was hard to structure my life [and have a job in Los Angeles].  I can tell you – I can make a little news here, which I haven’t talked about to anybody, but on Feb. 8, I came to the end of a 26-year watchful, waiting odyssey that culminated in 12 hours of massively invasive open-heart surgery.

Was it a bypass?

[No] I had valve repair.  I found out about this 26 years ago and I knew about it and I monitored it.  At the time, there was not much they could do and it wasn’t as serious as it became.  As I got older, it got worse.  Fortunately, the protocols for dealing with it became much more advanced and I found a wonderful doctor in New York who specializes in repairing valves.  Two years ago, it became life-threatening and I had to do something about it sooner or later.  I did it two weeks after [Conan’s ‘Tonight Show’] went off the air.

I’ll tell you it was a life-changing experience emotionally and spiritually.  I owe my life to these doctors.  If you can remember back to how moved David Letterman was when he got back on the air [in February 2000] – he had quintuple bypass surgery.  [In valve-repair surgery] they stop your heart.  I was on the heart-lung bypass machine for close to seven hours.  Did it play into my decision to remain where I am?  Maybe.  I mean I had three months of very difficult recovery.  When I say it was life-changing – I’ve always been a person who smelled the roses, but everything looks a little brighter.  Everything looks a little bit more manageable.  Nothing is really that big a deal to me anymore.  I’ve never felt better.  I thought I had energy before [but] I’m a thousand percent better.  I’m playing better than I ever did.  I’m not looking backward.  I feel wonderful about where I’m at – physically, personally, professionally.

Do you have anything to add to the story of what happened to Conan?  Were you as shocked as anybody else that his ‘Tonight Show’ went south that way?

It was very dramatic.  At my age, just being in this business for as long as I’ve been, nothing really surprises me, particularly in the landscape of television.  [But] any abrupt ending to anything is shocking.  It was very weird and awkward and, of course, I felt really bad for some of the people who moved out there – over a hundred people from New York who really took the hit, people who had purchased homes.   I know of one case where the day this news broke, which I think was Jan. 5 or 6, this individual had just closed on a house and that’s a real shame.

Let’s talk about the HBO documentary about ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.’  Why are we singling out this album for documentary treatment?  What’s so special about this one?

Of course, I have a somewhat prejudiced opinion – that all of Bruce’s albums are special.  This record, as the next project that was done after ‘Born to Run,’ to me, is extremely reflective of what was going on in music at the time in the late ’70s.  If you contrast ‘Darkness’ and its sound with the sound of ‘Born to Run,’ it’s quite different.  And I knew at the time that Bruce had begun to crystallize what it was he wanted to write about.  I always viewed my role and the rest of the musicians as: We’re colors in Bruce’s palette and I can recall on that record they wanted the drums to be very austere.  I think the best example of that is probably the title track, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.’  Why ‘Darkness’ now?  Well, why not?  It’s 33 years later and it’s sort of like the old Orson Welles line: ‘No wine before its time.’  There was footage that was filmed, it’s steeped in history and [so many years later], there’s a deeper resonance.

The movie traces the creation of the album and it goes into detail about the painstaking length of time that it took.  How do you remember it?  Was it satisfying, frustrating, tedious?

I remember it as a full range of emotion – definitely not tedium.  Now, I’m not the guy sitting in a room writing the songs.  Prior to actually going into the studio in, I believe, June of 1977, we rehearsed everyday at Bruce’s house – from like 2 o’clock to 7 o’clock almost everyday and we’d rehearse four or five songs and get them playable.  Then he’d come back the next day with four, five or six new songs.  That went on for two years!  Bruce had to do everything.  He had to write the songs.  He had to sing the songs.  He had to think about what he was trying to say as he was writing it. Really, to be the boss you do have to pay the cost.  And that was the cost that he did pay.

Will you watch Conan’s new show when it premieres Nov. 8 on TBS?

Absolutely.  I hope they do wonderfully well.  I’m sure they will.  I put a lot of time and effort into creating our little world over there, you know, with the band and the musical direction and what the band contributed, and I trust and I hope that the band retains the profile they had.  [Conan] is a brilliant, hard worker.  I’ve been fortunate to have people like Bruce and Conan – you don’t run into guys like that very often.


You know him as “Omar,” the toughest thug in Baltimore on “The Wire,” and now, he’s a crime figure of a different sort in “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO’s new series about Atlantic City gangsters at the dawn of the Roaring ’20s.   Meet Michael Kenneth Williams, HBO’s Chalky White.

CHALK UP ANOTHER ONE: Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire.” Photo: Craig Blankenhorn

Chalk up another one for Michael Kenneth Williams.

He’s the Brooklyn-born actor who riveted audiences for five seasons on ‘The Wire’ in the role of Omar Little, the most-feared of all the thugs, gangsters and street toughs on that hallowed Baltimore-based HBO series.

And now, Williams is back on HBO in a series that’s shaping up to be an even bigger hit than ‘The Wire.’  It’s ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ the sprawling series from executive producers Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese about Prohibition Era gangsters in Atlantic City, N.J, at the dawn of the Roaring ’20s.   The series stars Steve Buscemi as the town’s all-powerful political boss and Williams plays dapper Chalky White, also a key local figure whose power stems from his ability to marshal the African-American vote for the city’s white political machine.

In this Sunday’s episode (9 p.m.8c on HBO), Chalky has his most important scene yet, and Williams gets to deliver an unusually long monologue that reveals a harrowing and tragic episode from Chalky’s past.

Williams, 43, talked about the scene, about Chalky, about Omar Little, and how the actor came to receive the facial scar that, for better or worse, has helped define the characters he plays.

That’s a long speech they gave you in this Sunday’s episode of ‘Boardwalk’.  How many pages of material is that?

Williams: That was actually three pages.  That was the longest speech I’ve had in my career thus far.  There was someone I’d seen do a speech [and] I always admired her performance and it was Epatha Merkerson and she did this speech in this film we did together called “Lackawanna Blues.”   And I always remember saying, God, if I had the chance to rock a speech [like that] – just the way she embodied that spirit and the character in that scene, it just blew my mind.

What was the effect you were trying to achieve in the scene, particularly as it pertains to the other participant in the scene, a Ku Klux Klan leader tied to a chair and at the mercy of your character?

It’s 1920.  It’s a whole different era.  You know, for a black man to be in a white man’s face with that type of confidence, it was a rarity.  It wasn’t like a cockiness.  It was from pain, ancestral pain, if you will.  I wanted that hardcore pain to come across in that scene.

Tell us more about the character of Chalky.  Is he a stone-cold gangster?

He’s not a stone-cold gangster.  He’s a businessman first.  But he had to learn how to have a tough skin in order to [obtain] the finer things in life.  He wanted the American dream and he had to learn how to deal in the water filled with sharks and he had to kind of become like that to achieve it.  He’s like Omar, in a sense.  He has a sense of code, he’s loyal, he’s not a backstabber – you’ll see that come out.

You pointed out how Chalky and Omar are similar.  How are they different?

You know, Omar was in it for the thrill of the hunt.  He didn’t care about the money or the fortune or the fancy house and the jewelry and the cars.  He just did it for the love of the hunt.  Chalky ain’t in it for the hunt, as long as you bring good business by his way, you ain’t got no problems outta him.  But you gonna cut him in whether you like it or not.  He’d rather just do business and keep the peace, where Omar just liked to stir the pot.

How did you come to get cast on ‘Boardwalk’?

I had worked with Martin [Scorsese] – Marty, as good friends call him [he laughs] – back in ’98 on a film called “Bring Out the Dead” with Nic Cage and Marc Anthony.  So there was a familiarity there. I’m quite sure that everybody and their father was going up for this role so [there was] a lot of competition – but I think that [producer/director] Tim Van Patten was my ace in the hole.

When all was said and done, the seemingly invincible Omar Little was fatally shot by a child while Omar was purchasing a pack of cigarettes in a convenience store.  What did you think of the ending they wrote for the character?

I mourned Omar like I lost a best friend.  He was a part of me.  It was definitely a surprise that no one expected, and it spoke to [the one weakness of] Omar, his Achilles heel.  Everybody who was trying to kill him couldn’t get to him and it took a little kid to catch him completely off guard.

How important is ‘The Wire’ to you?

‘The Wire’ changed my life, personally and professionally.  It opened me up [to a greater awareness of society’s problems].  It made me more aware of the social issues.  You know, me comin’ from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, I was exposed to just my ’hood, but there’s a “wire” in every city in this country, it opened my eyes up to that.

Would you tell us the story behind your scar?

I was 25 – my 25th birthday.  I was in Queens, N.Y.  I had been drinking.  I had that liquid courage in me and so some words got exchanged with some other guys and, you know, normally something I would have ignored, and I got jumped and one of the guys had a razor in his mouth, a straight razor in his mouth like they do in jail, and he pulled it out and he started slicin’ me.

Well, it doesn’t seem to have stopped you in the pursuit of your career.  You just did a fashion spread in the October issue of GQ (posing on the Atlantic City boardwalk in a series of designer suits. 

I don’t take too much credit for anything.  I’m just pretty fortunate.  There’s tons of talent walking around here on the streets of New York.  It wasn’t like I did anything great.  I’m just truly fortunate and grateful for my opportunities.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Emmy nominations: Reacting to the reactions

July 8, 2010

No sweat: Ed O’Neill in “Modern Family.”


NEW YORK, July 8, 2010 — A couple of things about today’s Emmy Award nominations, based on all the overheated reactions that come flooding out from every misinformed corner of the universe when these things are announced every July:

1) On Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal — co-stars so many years ago on “Married With Children” — somehow being “snubbed” (every critic’s favorite word this time of year) for Emmy nominations, as if longevity in the TV business is one of the criteria for recognition:

First of all, that’s not a criterion.

Katey Sagal in “Sons of Anarchy”

Second of all, Ed O’Neill is not exactly setting the acting world on fire in “Modern Family,” which happens to be an enjoyable TV sitcom but not some sort of landmark production in the history of acting, as you might imagine from seeing all the cast members nominated for Emmys this year.  Ed did some of the best work of his career on “John from Cincinnati” on HBO, a show that was completely snubbed (there’s that word again!) by the Emmys.

As for Katey Sagal, I’m sure it’s a challenge to play the matriarch of a brutal California motorcycle gang in “Sons of Anarchy,” but my guess is, this show was way too far out — in its violence and extreme subject matter — for the TV Academy to shower it with nominations.   Plus, this show doesn’t receive the kind of buzz that can sometimes trickle down (or maybe up) to the TV Academy voters and help them “decide” which shows are worthiest of recognition.

2) On the significance of Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” being nominated for four Emmys and Jay Leno’s ill-fated prime-time show getting none:

Well, for one thing, NBC has to be embarrassed over seeing a show whose host the network humiliated so publicly get nominated for some of the TV industry’s highest honors — nominations based on the quality of the show’s production, which NBC didn’t feel was valuable enough to preserve.

But before all the Team Coco-heads start hooting and hollering about how their guy is better than Jay (sorry, I guess I’m too late for that), it’s worth mentioning for the umpteenth time that the quality of writing and directing — as judged by some obscure jury based on a couple of individual shows — doesn’t mean much in the long run if the show can’t draw viewers.

Now, in hindsight, with Leno’s “Tonight Show” declining in the ratings early this summer, you might conclude that NBC should have stuck with Conan.  Well, maybe — but hindsight’s always 20/20.  It remains true that NBC will have to replace Leno eventually, and that means they are challenged more than ever to cough up a replacement, though no one in particular seems to be warming up in the on-deck circle (I love a baseball metaphor, don’t you?).

3) On the Emmys being meaningful: Well, sometimes.  For instance, if Conan O’Brien wins one or more Emmys this September, it will be a great and fortuitous way for him to launch his new late-night show on TBS, lessening the risks, at least somewhat, for a venture that is fraught with them.

Generally speaking, the Emmy nominations are a great p.r. boost for TV in the dog days of summer.  It gets everyone talking about television — on television, on the Internet, in newspapers, and amongst each other.  As always, people will argue about who is most deserving, basing their arguments mainly on which shows and performers they happen to prefer personally.  But the Emmys aren’t about that — these awards, like the Oscars and others, are about an industry rewarding its own based on production criteria and aspects of craft that are generally indiscernible to us outsiders.  This is why the nominations often strike the general public as incomprehensible and endlessly debatable.

Contact Adam Buckman:

End of an era as late-night TV grows on cable

April 12, 2010


NEW YORK, April 12, 2010 — It’s the end of the world as we know it.

TBS’ decision, announced today, to mount two back-to-back late-night shows on weekday evenings means we’ve reached another one of those watershed moments in the evolution of cable TV’s long effort to even the playing field with the old broadcast networks.

Have you heard? Conan’s going to cable.

Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable:  Two hours of original late-night talk and comedy on a basic cable channel — a two-hour block of programming that for years was something only a broadcast network could afford to do.

Not anymore.

By signing former NBC star Conan O’Brien and pairing him with George Lopez, TBS is signaling that the era of late-night dominance by the likes of NBC and CBS is over.  TBS is saying: We can do it too — we have the distribution, the money (via advertising and subscriber revenue), the audience numbers, the channel positions and the know-how to do what the old guard can do.

Imagine it: Here’s this cable network that traffics almost exclusively in reruns of old sitcoms, running hour upon hour of them — “The Office,” “Family Guy” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” some “Seinfeld” and heaven knows what else.

And yet, despite this cable channel’s paucity of original anything, its analysis of the TV landscape has revealed that the time is right to take on the biggest, most established TV networks in late-night TV, and not with half-hour satires such as “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” or with a single hour either.  No — TBS plans on taking on CBS and NBC with two hours of traditional television: Personality-hosted late-night shows with monologues and celebrity guests — the kinds of shows seen since the dawn of time only on the so-called “big” networks (and only on CBS since 1993).

Over the years, the cable networks grew and the broadcast networks shrank.  Now, in the wake of Conan O’Brien — a network TV stalwart — deciding to stake his future on cable, you might say they’re all pretty much the same.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Andy Richter on NBC and Leno: Yes, I’m angry

March 9, 2010

Candid Andy: Andy Richter spoke out about NBC and “The Tonight Show” this morning on “Live! with Regis and Kelly.”


NEW YORK, March 9, 2010 — Andy Richter emerged this morning as the first member of Team Conan to speak out publicly since NBC canned his pal Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show.”

Richter’s opportunity came on “Live! with Regis and Kelly,” where Richter was subbing for Regis Philbin, who was on vacation.

Kelly Ripa dove right into the topic of NBC’s late-night debacle at the top of “Live” this morning.

“It’s a big thrill for us to have you here,” Ripa told Richter.  “I feel like you are the ‘get’ of the century right now.”

In reply, Richter, O’Brien’s sidekick and announcer on the ill-fated Conan “Tonight Show,” confirmed this was his first appearance on TV and first chance to speak out on the subject since the show ceased production in January.

“And I actually can be on TV,” Richter noted, “Conan can’t . . . In fact, I’m not even sure I can say his name.  I may be getting him in trouble for just saying his name.”

“Does that mean you didn’t get the big money [referring to the multimillion-dollar severance package reportedly negotiated by Conan’s reps when he exited NBC]?” Ripa asked.

Watch the video — story continues below:

“Conan is putting a lot of his own money out there,” Richter said, explaining that most of the Conan “Tonight Show” staff did not receive generous severance packages.  “[Conan] formed a little corporation just to pay people,” he said.  “All these people moved from New York to California to be on the show and a lot of the people, they’re robbed of their contacts and so even in a downtime like this they don’t have the contacts that they would have here on the East Coast to go get work elsewhere.  . . . Now they’re in Los Angeles with lots of skills in a television town and not really knowing a lot of people there.”

Richter revealed that he’s OK financially, at least for now, because he’s “still actually under contract at NBC for a while — not on the air, but I’m still an employee.”

“So what do they have you do now — cleaning up the office and stuff?” Ripa asked.

“No, in fact it was ‘We need your ID!’ It was like that, yeah,” he said, describing the way he and other show staffers got the heave-ho.  “We had a week or so to pack up and clear out.”

Not surprisingly, Richter said he was as surprised as anyone else on the Conan “Tonight Show” that NBC had decided to halt the program.  Indeed, he felt he was set for life.  “I thought, ‘I’m on “The Tonight Show”!’ That’s as good as it gets in show business.  I’m a tenured professor of show business now!”

Getting to the heart of the matter, Ripa asked him, “Do you have any ill feelings toward NBC and Jay [Leno]? Not that you’re going to be honest . . .”

But Richter was honest.  Said he, “Um, yes!  Yes, I do.  Why wouldn’t I?  NBC, definitely . . .  Everybody said they were going to do something and then they didn’t.  They all said years ago, ‘We’re going to do something’ and then they didn’t.”

Ripa asked him if the difficulty of producing a new “Tonight Show,” starring Conan and his team, was compounded by NBC’s decision to place, essentially, another late-night-style show — “The Jay Leno Show” — at 10 p.m. weeknights.

“It was very difficult,” Richter said.  “I don’t think it was a good plan.  There was a lot of planning that was done that was very short-sighted.”

Ripa also asked Richter about the rumors that a Conan stage show was being organized for a summer tour.  “It’s a possibility, a distinct possibility,” Richter said.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Leno and Palin’s lost question: What about Dave?

March 3, 2010

Sarah Palin goes chin-to-chin with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.”


NEW YORK, March 3, 2010 — Jay Leno should have asked Sarah Palin about David Letterman.

That would have made for a much more interesting interview, one that would have made more headlines this morning than Palin’s tepid appraisal of “Family Guy.”  She called the Fox cartoon series “lame” in a portion of her conversation with Leno that at any moment could have turned to a riveting discussion of her feud with Letterman.

But if you hold your breath waiting for Jay Leno to conduct an interesting or even mildly thought-provoking interview, then you will surely suffocate.

The moment at which Leno could have handed Palin an opportunity to bash Leno’s late-night rival (or at least engage in a lively conversation about the nature of late-night TV and its treatment of public figures and newsmakers) came in their first segment together (of two) on “The Tonight Show” when Leno addressed the issue of The Media and its treatment of Palin.  It’s an issue on which Palin frequently harps because she knows her fan base of Ordinary People loves it when she attacks Big institutions such as Big Media or Big Government.

“The media does sort of try to get a rise out of you,” Leno said.  “They sort of poke you to get you to react and sometimes your reaction becomes bigger than whatever the initial story was.  Have you sort of learned, maybe, OK,  I’m not gonna comment on that one because I know it will only get bigger?”

Poke you to get you to react?”  Without mentioning Letterman by name, Leno was practically asking her specifically to comment on Letterman, whose feud with Palin started with a clumsily worded monologue joke that seemed (to Palin and her husband Todd) to imply that Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez had impregnated Palin’s 14-year-old daughter.  After Palin blasted Letterman, the CBS “Late Show” host spent the better part of last June hammering her night after night and ratings soared.

“What I would desire is more opportunity to follow up on a comment that perhaps I’ve made,” said Palin, answering Leno’s question.

Then came an even better opportunity for Palin to get into the Letterman dustup.  In fact, Leno’s next question was worded in such a way that you might have thought Leno was actually leading her into a discussion about Letterman, though he evidently didn’t have the nerve to just raise the subject directly.

“Give me an example,” Leno said.  “What’s one where you sort of made a comment and you didn’t get a chance to . . . ?”

“Oh, gosh!  There are so many!” said Palin, who then raised the subject of “Family Guy,” which last month tastelessly poked fun at her son who has Down syndrome and she reacted predictably by condemning the show.  Letterman’s name never came up — a blown opportunity.

Meanwhile, the new/old Leno “Tonight Show” struggled in Night 2 to reestablish its footing.  It’s an interesting thing about Leno — here’s this guy who is (or should be) as comfortable in front of an audience as anyone in the history of show business.  And yet, he can still seem nervous and apprehensive.

He seemed that way Monday night when he delivered his monologue.  The jokes were particularly mediocre (as they have been for a while) and his studio audience reacted more with applause than laughter — a phenomenon, sometimes called “mercy applause,” that’s a sure sign the jokes aren’t funny.

And when the jokes aren’t funny, and Leno knows this, he tends to over-compensate by delivering them more loudly — kind of in the manner of a tourist abroad who cannot speak the local language and believes waiters or shopkeepers will better understand his English if he simply raises his voice.

And on Tuesday night, Leno even faltered in the “Headlines” segment, a bit he’s done thousands of times.  He seemed to rush through it as if he couldn’t have been less interested.

Leno’s new “Tonight Show” seems to have come to the air with minimal preparation other than the creation of a new logo.  NBC had six weeks to design and build Leno a new set or pre-produce a series of very funny, creative, bang-up comedy bits to be featured in the first few weeks of Leno’s return.  But other than the “Wizard of Oz” dream spoof that opened Monday’s show, little seems to have been done, maybe because NBC and its management were so focused on the Olympics that they could not devote any time to this “Tonight Show” business.

Now that the Olympics are over, they had better refocus their attention on Leno.  Right now, the most creative comedy in late-night is being done everywhere else — on “Fallon,” on “Kimmel,” on “Ferguson.”

I wasn’t even a particular fan of Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show.”  But the other night, while watching Jay, I thought to myself: I wonder what Conan’s doing tonight?

Contact Adam Buckman:

Conan, standard bearer for ‘youth,’ is an aging 46

January 25, 2010

Conan O’Brien: Wish him luck.


NEW YORK, Jan. 25, 2010 — Neil Young first recorded “Long May You Run” 34 years ago, in 1976.

He performed the song last Friday on Conan O’Brien’s final “Tonight Show.”

It’s a great song, but a pretty old one, the equivalent of performing a song from 1944 on “The Tonight Show” of 1976.  In 1976, Conan was 13.

In liner notes on the 1977 compilation album “Decade,” Young wrote that “Long May You Run” was a song about a car and a woman.

“‘Long May You Run’: A song written for my first car and my last lady,” Young wrote. “As Dylan says, ‘Now that the past is gone’ [from Dylan’s “Wedding Song”].”

Search for information on the Web about the car and the story behind it and you will find endless debates about which car (two hearses — one a Buick, the other a Pontiac — are in contention), whether the song’s subject is a car or a motorcycle, and what the lyrics mean, the usual inconclusive Google search.

However, it is clear the song was not written about a late-night talk-show host, though some of its lyrics were adaptable to the situation in which Young performed it on Conan O’Brien’s final “Tonight Show” last Friday (the lyrics include, “We’ve been through some things together, with trunks of memories still to come. We found things to do in stormy weather, long may you run.”).

The song is a classic example of what used to be known as “album rock,” but today, if categorized for radio play, it would be classified as “classic rock,” basically, an oldie, but not as old as the more traditional “oldie” — more likely a Top-40 pop song from the 1950s or ’60s.

Will Ferrell singing “Free Bird” on Conan’s last “Tonight” show.

The same can be said for “Free Bird,” the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic first recorded 37 years ago, in 1973.

Conan’s last “Tonight Show” closed with “Free Bird,” sung by Will Ferrell, backed up by The Tonight Show Band, and assisted on guitars by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top (another icon of classic rock), Beck and, impressively, Conan himself.

When Young finished singing “Long May You Run” and Conan came over to greet him, Young, 64 and as much a “classic” as anyone, told Conan he came on the show to support him because of all that Conan had done over the years for the exposure of new music.

You might not have heard it; Young said it rather softly and it was partially drowned out by the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to Young’s performance (and, apparently, you can’t try and hear what Young said now, since it looks as if NBC has barred video of the performance from being posted on YouTube though it could be found there throughout the weekend).

Conan’s emphasis on emerging music acts has been his pattern over the years, particularly on “Late Night,” where music bookings tended toward artists on the way up who hadn’t quite gotten there.

And yet, when it came time to load up on the sentiment on his final “Tonight Show,” Conan revealed a personal preference for the classics, which would tend to separate him from the younger fans who showed their love for him in the waning weeks of his “Tonight Show.”

The fact is: Conan O’Brien is 46 years old. It’s a funny age for show business, especially for the way show business, or the television version of show business, is now constituted.

At 46, he’s a little old to be considered “young.” Though he’s not yet 50, he is too old to comb his hair into a point at the center of his scalp, or wear a backward cap, or go self-consciously unshaven, or wear intentionally faded jeans with an untucked shirt.

This is the outfit worn by “young” TV personalities and movie stars these days — on MTV, on the talk shows when they appear as guests, or in commercials for computers, cellphones, fast-food chains and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Moreover, at age 46, how much longer can Conan get away with the kind of sophomoric comedy that’s better suited for younger personalities?

At some point, Conan’s going to have to reinvent himself as a more mature performer capable of evolving a persona that will be seen as hip enough to continue drawing younger fans, while, at the same time, retaining his many other fans who will inevitably age along with him.

David Letterman, 63, enjoys a reputation for accomplishing this feat — the aging crank who nevertheless possesses a subversiveness that is supposedly still attractive to younger viewers.  However, reputations are often inaccurate.

The truth was: Jay Leno, now 59, had better younger demographics than Letterman when Leno hosted “The Tonight Show.”

And Leno’s younger demos weren’t that much worse than Conan’s.

I can remember seeing Leno perform in Atlantic City a few years back, and most of his audience was composed of extremely worshipful college kids, among whom he apparently has a huge following, whether erudite critics in New York and L.A. care to accept it or not.

Ultimately, a great scenario for Conan — given the caveat that nothing at all is certain in show business in general or late-night television in particular — is that, in a few years, he may be in a position to take over for Letterman.

The odd thing is, he might then be competing with an aging Leno, and he, Conan, just might beat him.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Fired, but still on? You’ve got to be kidding me!

January 22, 2010

Enough already: NBC should have muzzled Conan, but instead, they’ve allowed him to hammer them night after night.


NEW YORK, Jan. 22, 2010 — Where, oh, where are the broadcasting executives of yesteryear, the ones who would never tolerate wayward air talent who would use their airwaves to brutally lambast their own stations or networks?

If they had the opportunity to watch Conan O’Brien blasting NBC left and right these last two weeks on “The Tonight Show,” those execs — the ones from an era long ago, who weren’t afraid to exercise their power, and who regarded air talent as children in need of adult supervision (and discipline) — wouldn’t recognize their business today.

Sure, Conan’s nightly battle of wits with NBC has fueled a sharp (and much-needed) uptick in the ratings for “Tonight” these last two weeks or so.  But at what cost?  The accumulation of hard-edged humor, emanating from their own stages and skewering NBC management night after night, has only succeeded in planting an image in the public brain of a giant communications company in chaos, whose managers are so ineffective that a guy they fired is allowed to continue appearing on their air, spending their money and impugning their reputations.

Hey, it’s not that I have sympathy for TV executives.  Indeed, I’m having as much fun as everyone else watching them get splattered with mud every night.  It’s just that I keep returning to the same thought: What is wrong with this picture?

I can still vividly recall the time nearly 20 years ago when one of CBS’s highest-ranking execs, a division president,  schooled me in the ways of managing broadcast talent over lunch in his private dining room at CBS headquarters.  I had asked him what he thought of Howard Stern, who was then in the first years of his growing notoriety as the nation’s foremost practitioner of what would come to be labeled “shock radio.”

“Children,” this executive said dismissively, frowning between bites of his lunch.  “Air talent – they’re all children.  And that’s how you have to treat them.  Like children.”

And I can remember when fired air personalities were really fired.  Once upon a time, tradition held that, once they were fired, air talent was barred from the facilities, lest they engage in malicious mischief detrimental to the company.  This custom was most notable in the radio business, owing to a handful of occasions when fired disc jockeys returned to work, locked themselves in their studios and would then play a record such as “Feelings” or “You Light Up My Life” as many consecutive times as they could before private security or the police were able to dislodge them.

What is the problem with these NBC executives who are permitting Conan O’Brien to whine and complain every night on their network and on their dime?  And why are they letting him have a “farewell” broadcast?  Maybe NBC management felt that, if they abruptly shut down production on O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” last week, when he informed them he would not accept a “Tonight Show” starting at 12:05 a.m., that they and their company would take some sort of bath in the media and in the court of public opinion.

But it would have been no worse than what has happened as a result of allowing O’Brien to continue.  And at least the people running NBC would look like they possessed backbones, and were really in charge of their company, if they’d shown Conan the door instead of seeming to grant him carte blanche to wage a public war on them at their expense.

As things stand now, tonight’s farewell show will likely be the highest-rated of O’Brien’s entire, short-lived tenure on “The Tonight Show,” which possibly sets him up nicely to become established on a competing network by next fall.

Contact Adam Buckman:

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

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Comedy Darwinism: Survival of the funniest

January 19, 2010

KINGS OF COMEDY: Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno on the premiere episode of NBC’s ill-fated “Jay Leno Show” last September.



NEW YORK, Jan. 19, 2010 — The most revealing commentary on the whole NBC/Leno/Conan mess came from Jerry Seinfeld.

It revealed all you needed to know about show business.

Seinfeld, who is so wealthy and successful that he can be as honest as he feels like, laid it on the line: Conan O’Brien wasn’t good enough, so he got yanked.

“What did the network do to him?” Seinfeld shot back when a reporter at the Winter TV Press Tour in Pasadena earlier this month probed for Jerry’s opinion on whether NBC wasn’t being fair to O’Brien.

“I don’t think anyone’s preventing people from watching Conan,” said Seinfeld, demolishing the complaint from Conan’s camp that poor lead-ins from local news and Jay Leno’s 10 p.m. show hurt the ratings for Conan’s “Tonight Show.”

“Once they give you the cameras, it’s on you,” Seinfeld said.  “I can’t blame NBC for having to move things around. I hope Conan stays — I think he’s terrific. But there’s no rules in show business, there’s no refs.”

The lesson learned?  Show business is a dog-eat-dog world.  And at the top of one segment of show business — the comedy business — there is only room for a few.  And those few are more likely to respect those who came up the hard way than those, like Conan, who didn’t.

Seinfeld happens to be one of the ones who paid his dues; Jay Leno is another, which might help explain why these two are friends, or at least as close to being “friends” as two people can be in their business, assuming they never wind up competing for the same thing, which hasn’t happened to them yet.

Conan O’Brien, a Harvard-educated comedy writer from “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” didn’t come up the hard way in the manner of Leno and Seinfeld.  They worked for years in malodorous comedy clubs — the places Seinfeld once characterized (in his 2002 documentary film, “Comedian”) as the “smelly gyms” of show business.

O’Brien didn’t rise through the ranks — he leapt over them when he was plucked from obscurity by Lorne Michaels to take over NBC’s “Late Night” when David Letterman left, one of the most unlikely and improbable lucky breaks ever recorded in the history of show business.

In the Darwinistic world of the comedy business, lucky breaks such as the one awarded Conan are an alien concept, which is why comedians such as Seinfeld and Leno will never admit a lucky break recipient such as Conan O’Brien into their exclusive circle.

In fact, if comedy has a hierarchy, Leno and Seinfeld are the business’ top dogs, measured especially by the yardstick that matters most, which is earning power.  They live in a rarefied world in which they two may be the only two residents.  Even Letterman, who paid his dues in the comedy clubs so many years ago, today eschews the live performances from which Seinfeld and Leno still make their bread and butter.

Seinfeld, swimming in residual money from the eternal rerun plays of his eponymous sitcom, and Leno, who makes so much money from live performances that he claims to bank his six-figure weekly paychecks from NBC and then never touches the money, are two peas in a unique pod.

Seinfeld was Leno’s first guest on “The Jay Leno Show” last September.  Seinfeld wore a tux, as if to say: Here at the pinnacle of show business, here is how we dress; it’s OK for the rest of you peons to go casual.  But not me.  (Leno wore his usual business suit and tie.)

Leno appeared in Seinfeld’s “Comedian” documentary and Seinfeld was Leno’s first phone call in 2004 when NBC proposed that he relinquish “The Tonight Show” to Conan O’Brien in 2009.  Seinfeld, playing the role of comedy godfather, apparently advised Leno to say yes.

“I called up my buddy, Jerry Seinfeld,” Leno said on “The Tonight Show” on Sept. 27, 2004, explaining why he agreed with NBC’s plan to replace him in five years with O’Brien — the news of which had broken earlier that day.

“I said, ‘Jerry what do you think?’ . . .  Jerry quit his show when it was the most popular, and I’m proud to say [“The Tonight Show’] show has been No. 1 and we’ll keep it No. 1 and then in ’09 I’ll say, ‘Conan, take it over, it’s yours,’ ’cause, you know, you can do these things until they carry you out on a stretcher or you can get out when you know you’re still doing good,” Leno said, the words seeming to pour out of him.

Carried out on a stretcher?  Dragged off by a team of wild horses was how Letterman put it back then when he commented on the transition plan two days later on his own show, “Late Show” on CBS.

“[Leno has] quit ‘The Tonight Show’,” Letterman said, setting up a joke.  “Jay Leno is leaving ‘The Tonight Show’ . . . He’s going to be gone in five years.  You know what this does?  It saves NBC the cost of a team of wild horses, that’s what that does!”

Now that Leno’s returning to “The Tonight Show,” NBC might have to reserve that team of wild horses after all.

Contact Adam Buckman:

NBC’s broken promise: We’ll give Jay a full year

January 14, 2010

Promises, promises: Jay Leno and Jeff Zucker




NEW YORK, Jan. 14, 2010 — It all seems now as if I dreamed it.

But I did not — I WAS there, in a small suite in a tiny boutique hotel no one had ever heard of before, about a half-block from Times Square, seated with a group of about a dozen journalists for an informal news conference with Jay Leno and his boss at NBC, Jeff Zucker.

Again and again, at this news conference hastily convened during network television’s upfront week last May, reporters asked Zucker: What is your network’s commitment to the new prime-time show Jay will be hosting weeknights at 10 o’clock?  The reporters asked this question repeatedly, in any number of various ways, and Zucker never wavered in his answer: The new “Jay Leno Show” would stay on the air for its first year at least, a 46-week run, without regard for ratings.  This was also the assurance the network gave Jay, repeatedly, including on that day, since Jay was there too.

In his many answers to essentially the same question, Zucker indicated that such a commitment was really the only way to handle a concept that was so new and different — basically a hybrid of a late-night talk show and an old-fashioned variety show, but airing five nights a week.

For NBC to learn if the concept would work, this show would have to run at least a year, Zucker explained, because the whole plan was based on the network’s belief that Leno’s show, with 230 new episodes produced per year, with no repeats outside of Leno’s six vacation weeks, would, at various times of year such as the summer, out-compete the other networks whose shows in the 10 p.m. time period would each only have 22 episodes.

To NBC, that seemed to mean that the Leno show would be well-positioned to win the time period in those many, many weeks when the competition was in reruns, or was using the 10-11 p.m. hour to try out various replacement shows.

And Zucker insisted that ratings, at least for that first 46 weeks, would not be a reason to yank the show.  However, that is exactly what has happened — low ratings are the reason NBC is shelving Leno’s 10 p.m. show, leading to the spectacle now on view in which the network tries to cram Leno and Conan both into late-night and, as a result of this bungled effort, might now lose one or both of them.

Zucker might have been sincere last May (and all the other times he repeated the same mantra in the months leading up to the debut of “The Jay Leno Show” last September).  Maybe the ratings really didn’t matter to him.  But apparently, the ratings do matter to NBC’s affiliates — a situation Zucker and the rest of his executive team seem not to have ever considered.  In hindsight, maybe they should have considered the possibility that affiliates would become disaffected if their late newscasts took a hit from Leno’s low lead-in numbers.

But affiliate displeasure of this magnitude is so unprecedented in network television that you can hardly blame the NBC execs for failing to plan for the possibility of an all-out affiliate rebellion in the event that Leno flopped.

On the other hand, their own company owns and operates a substantial station group whose managers might have sent a memo up to corporate at some point in the late-night planning process to ask if they should be worried about the health of their 11 o’clock newscasts.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Analyzing Conan’s letter: A deliberate jab at Jay?

January 12, 2010

Conan O’Brien: Fightin’ words


NEW YORK, Jan. 12, 2010 — Conan O’Brien’s open letter issued today to “People of Earth” contains a sentence that could be interpreted as a veiled dig at Jay Leno for placidly going along with NBC’s plan to move him back to 11:35 p.m. and thereby disrupt a traditional late-night lineup that has been in place for decades.

The line in question comes in the fourth paragraph of the letter, according to a copy of the letter reproduced on  “Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move ‘The Tonight Show’ to 12:05 to accommodate ‘The Jay Leno Show’ at 11:35,” Conan wrote.  “For 60 years, ‘The Tonight Show’ has aired immediately following the late local news.  I sincerely believe that delaying ‘The Tonight Show’ into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.  ‘The Tonight Show’ at 12:05 simply isn’t ‘The Tonight Show’,” Conan wrote.

And here’s the kicker: Writes Conan, “If I accept this move, I will be knocking the ‘Late Night’ show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot.  That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.”

Now, Conan doesn’t write the following, but he certainly could have, just after that sentence:  “And by extension, Jay Leno’s refusal to reject NBC’s plan to wedge a half-hour version of his own show between affiliates’ local newscasts and the proposed 12:05 a.m. start of ‘The Tonight Show’ means that Leno is a party to the network’s potential destruction of the revered ‘Tonight Show’ franchise.”

Or, to put it another way, in the very same language in which Conan voices his support for Jimmy Fallon and NBC’s “Late Night,” Conan could be implying: “If Jay Leno accepts this move, he will be knocking ‘The Tonight Show,’ which I inherited from him and he inherited from Johnny Carson, out of its long-held time slot.  That would hurt the NBC franchise I love — ‘The Tonight Show’ — and would be unfair to me.”

If Conan’s intention was to imply that Leno is not doing the right thing by acquiescing to NBC’s plan for a half-hour “Jay Leno Show” at 11:35, then Conan might have a fair point, self-serving though it may be.  Let’s face it, Conan has been host of “Tonight” for only seven months — too short a time to tell if he’s capable of restoring the show to its traditional No. 1 position in late-night.  Remember, it’s Leno, and his 10 p.m. show, who’s  getting cancelled due to ratings that have been so low that affiliates were in open revolt.  And when was the last time that ever happened?  A show has to be a pretty dismal failure for affiliates to get up in arms that way.

Maybe Leno should simply be asked to stand down, come what may.  And maybe NBC should simply honor its commitment to Conan.  The problem is: NBC execs have created a situation in which it’s probably too late to do either of these things.

Contact Adam Buckman:

No matter how you slice it, Conan got screwed

January 11, 2010

Conan’s the loser in this latest late-night story, though he doesn’t deserve to be. Jay Leno wins — again.


NEW YORK, Jan. 11, 2010 — It’s a tale of two personalities — one of them the winner and one of them the loser.

Jay Leno’s the winner, of course.  He’s about to reclaim the 11:35 p.m. start time he prefers for his nightly show on NBC.  And while the show is being billed so far as a half-hour idea, it will likely morph into an hour, and will likely be “The Tonight Show” by the time it premieres after the Winter Olympics because, really, how in the world can Conan stay at NBC after how the network has treated him.

Thus, life goes on for Jay Leno, who is one of these guys who is either very, very lucky or very, very skilled at coming out on top.  This is the second time he’s won this kind of thing — the last time, in ’92, the odds favored David Letterman taking over for Johnny Carson.  But Leno — the old-fashioned, blue-collar “tell joke, get check” comedian  — worked harder to win over affiliates and NBC execs and wound up the winner.

He reminds me of that “Seinfeld” episode, in which bad things happen to Elaine, good things happen to George, and Jerry remarks that no matter what happens around him, his life remains level and well-adjusted.  Leno’s the same way — while TV execs scramble around worrying and tearing out their hair trying to navigate their way out of an impossibly complicated situation they made for themselves, he can be found with his head under a car hood (seemingly) waiting patiently for the moment when someone will call him up and inform him he’s getting “The Tonight Show” back.  He makes it seem as if he doesn’t care, although he does care, a lot.  Still, in his sometimes goofy way, Jay Leno is the coolest cat in the room.

While Jay wins, Conan loses.  It didn’t have to come out this way.  NBC could just as well have decided to dump Leno’s 10 p.m. show and then dump Leno.  So what if he goes somewhere else?  There’s no guarantee he’d do as well.  In addition, his options are pretty limited — ABC is the only network that might have made sense for him, but their guy is Jimmy Kimmel and he’s doing pretty well; anyway, that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

In some ways, NBC’s original plan was sound.  They were  right: In a few years, they would have had to find a new host anyway as Leno aged.  What they should have done was just keep Conan on “Tonight” because at some point, CBS will lose Letterman (in 5, 10 years? It doesn’t matter — time flies pretty quickly).  And then, Conan would have been the veteran late-night star everyone would have turned to and he would have been No. 1.

Hey, I’m not even a huge fan of Conan’s “Tonight Show,” but he’s getting a very raw deal.  Sure, he might be enriched by this rumored payoff of $45 million (the reported “penalty” supposedly included in his contract with NBC if the network reneges on “The Tonight Show”), and who wouldn’t love to receive $45 million?

Still, the reality is this: Conan’s getting canceled after just seven months.  His career, which did nothing but rise for nearly 20 years, is suddenly in jeopardy.   NBC is trying to make it seem like he hasn’t been canceled; he’s just being moved by a half-hour.  But really, what else can you conclude but that Conan didn’t work out as host of the traditional “Tonight Show”?  That happens to be a “first” — no one in the show’s storied history has ever failed at it, but that’s exactly what NBC is saying here.

Now, instead of representing the future of late-night TV, Conan joins the list of the late-night also-rans — Chevy Chase, Rick Dees, Pat Sajak and seemingly scores of others.  Sure, you can argue that his long tenure as host of “Late Night” should earn Conan a higher perch in the hierarchy than Chevy Chase.  And you would be right.  At the same time, however, moving to Fox to host a new, untested late-night show represents a demotion.  It’s a consolation prize and a weak one at that, since Fox has no history in late-night except for its failures with Joan Rivers and Chevy Chase back in the ancient ’80s and ’90s.  And there’s no guarantee the Fox affiliates even want a late-night show.  Moreover, even in fourth place, NBC is the classier of the two networks.  Conan’s comedy is more like the comedy of “30 Rock” and “SNL” than the gross-out humor of “Family Guy.”

In the end, this misadventure seriously damages Conan’s reputation.  And whether you like his comedy or not, he — along with all the loyal members of his team who all relocated to California from New York — did not deserve this.  They’re a great group of people — Conan too.  The screwing he’s getting from the company to which he has been loyal for so long, is just breathtaking.

Contact Adam Buckman:

Late-night twists and turns: NBC gets the bends

January 8, 2010

Chin music: Jay Leno laughs all the way to the bank while NBC squirms.


NEW YORK, Jan. 8, 2010 — A couple of things struck me in the last 24 hours or so as this story about NBC giving up on its Jay Leno experiment has gained steam.

First: You have to love a story that invites you to sit back and watch while a TV network and its executives contort themselves into pretzels in order to find their way out of the convoluted mess they made for themselves.

Just look at the plans being floated in all the press accounts today, based mainly on interviews with unnamed sources — all of them panicky execs putting out all kinds of scenarios that have NBC bending over backward to somehow accommodate both Jay and Conan.  This plan to run a half-hour “Jay Leno Show” at 11:35 p.m., followed by Conan’s “Tonight Show” at 12:05 is shrewdly calculated to please no one — not Jay (OK, maybe a little), not Conan (especially him), not Jimmy Fallon (whose show will then start a few hours before sunup), and not viewers.   Don’t you just love the TV business?

Second: Remember why NBC set this whole Jay-Conan thing in motion in 2004 in the first place?  The network said then it wanted to set the stage for a smooth transition on “The Tonight Show” that would prevent the outbreak of the kind of chaos that accompanied Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992.

Well, nice try, NBC.  Despite your best efforts (or actually, because of them), the tumult in late-night, while different in its particulars this time around, is really on par with ’92-’93.  You have a network trying to juggle its top talent and keep them (if for no better reason than to prevent them from defecting to competing networks) — a task somewhat akin to a slow-witted kindergartner’s attempts to hammer a square block into a round hole.  And the whole thing — shifting Leno to and fro, moving Conan to 11:35 and then pushing him back a half-hour later — is wreaking havoc on the very people that matter most, the viewers, who have had to relearn their late-night viewing habits and will now have to relearn them again.

And third: What does this new drama say about the state of network television?  So-called “experts” have been telling us for several years that network television and its old-fashioned business model — you know the one: A network of affiliated stations covering 98 percent of the country all carrying the programming of a single over-the-air program provider — had at least one foot in the grave and at least a few toes of its second foot.

Then what happens?  A group of network affiliates — local stations that still “broadcast” the old-fashioned way and represent the very vanguard of what you might refer to as old TV media — still have enough juice to bring a network — NBC — to its knees and force changes that the network never dreamed it would have to make, at least not this soon and certainly not at the behest of a bunch of affiliates.

What happens now?  Hopefully, more turmoil and indecision — what better way to start the weekend!

Contact Adam Buckman:

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