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Monday, November 15, 2010

VHS Vault: Jay Leno

Is there a more despised man in comedy right now than Jay Leno? I can't think of one. Maybe Kyle Cease, but he's small time. In both cases, I'm not entirely sure it's fair. Leno lost all comedy cred since taking over from Johnny Carson with his bland version of The Tonight Show, then lost even more respect when he wrestled control of the show back from Conan O'Brien. But did he? It's more like he was offered the job back and he took it. Coco fans seem to believe that if Leno had declined the invitation to return as host, O'Brien would still be there. That's faulty logic, methinks. I think NBC wanted Conan out no matter what due simply to the ratings. It's a numbers game. Had Leno refused to come back, they would have replaced Conan with someone else.

Here's an early clip of Leno on The Tonight Show. There's lots more earlier stuff available. I'm not sure exactly when this is but I believe it's from the late 1980s. Since Leno didn't take over from Carson until 1992, this would have been when he was guest hosting, as he did regularly since 1987. It was a period when he was still liked and respected. Is he that much different? I don't think so. But judge for yourself.

video

14 comments:

dj said...

Leno's a total shit. When you retire you leave, like Carson did. You don't immediately take the time slot right before the show you "retired" from and start a new show which is 99% same as the old show. Especially when you said you wouldn't do that.

He is a liar and a weasel.

Guy MacPherson said...

Disagree, DJ. When you retire, you do whatever the hell you want to do. There isn't one template to follow. Carson was much older. Also, Leno was pushed out. The network announced Conan would replace Leno five years prior. Leno never said he'd retire.

Also, he couldn't just start a new show and put it on whenever he wanted to. He's not that powerful. If he was, they would have kept him on. Put that blame on the network. But let's get rid of that ridiculous and out-dated notion that what's on from 10 to 11 affects what comes on at 11:30. Really? Anyone you know watch TV like that?: "I really don't like this show but I couldn't be bothered to move my hand one inch to the left to pick up the remote control and change the channel for the next 35 minutes."

And will you at least agree that if Leno had told NBC to get stuffed and not taken the Tonight Show back, NBC would still have fired Conan? That much is obvious, right?

Anonymous said...

Andy Richter had a good point about when people starting slamming Conan's ratings. No one came after the local news even though their ratings dropped up to 50% across the country. No one thought the anchors should be fired. They knew Jay was giving them a lousy lead in.
Conan never had a fair shot. Lousy lead in and Leno doing a mini version of the Tonight Show before his.
As for Leno being pushed out, yeah the same way he pushed Carson out. But when Leno was struggling against Lettermen (without the weights Conan had around his legs), NBC let him build an audience. But Jay didn't have Carson casually saying, "I'd come back if they asked" in interviews.

Guy MacPherson said...

I'm just not buying the lousy lead-in thing. Leno's ratings were awful in prime time, but they were number 1 on The Tonight Show. So it was a decent gamble on the part of NBC to try him at 10. It just didn't work out. That's show biz. The fact he did a "mini version of The Tonight Show" 90 minutes before Conan's show seems like a non-issue. Is the thinking that people can't watch two talk shows in a row (interrupted by a newscast)? Uh, they do it at 11:35 and again at 12:35. And they switch to whichever one they like after watching the first. I'm sure there are tons of people who watch Letterman then switch over to Fallon. Or who watch Leno then switch over to Ferguson. They don't sit there dumbly and watch whatever follows.

And while Conan didn't get the time to build an audience (he certainly did when he first started on Late Night), there's no guarantee he would have built decent ratings had they kept him around. The execs panicked and decided to bring back the guy who was number one a few months earlier, and had been number one for years. Understandable decision. Personally, I wish they had fired Conan and brought in someone completely new.

Also, if you didn't like the way Leno pushed out Carson, why is it any better if Conan pushed out Leno? Gotta be consistent. I mean, other than the fact Conan is better than Leno. Of that, we can agree. But that's not what we're discussing here.

Did you see Conan's ratings are slipping already?: http://perezhilton.com/2010-11-11-conans-ratings-drop-yet-again

Anonymous said...

I don't care that Leno pushed out Carson, but he can't whine about the same treatment to the press. And he did. Often. He was the one who brought up that he'd take the Tonight Show back if it was offered. That's just a classless thing to do.
Of course the lead in was the problem. Leno killed everything after him at ten. Local news was bleeding ratings. We have remotes and DVRs but your lead in still matters in the ratings game. Leno's show cut the ratings of the show that followed it drastically and that affected Conan's ratings. We'll never know how a Tonight Show with Conan would have done without Leno. It was never given the chance.
To say it didn't matter is just not understanding how television works. Blocks of programming are what matter, more so than individual shows.
Maybe that'll change in the near future but we're not there yet.
Conan is still leading in the youth market which is the main one that matters for advertisers. No one at TBS will be letting him go any time soon.
It doesn't excuse what Leno did. He lied and backstabbed and while that might just be showbiz it took a dump on his good natured everyman image.

Guy MacPherson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy MacPherson said...

Ian, is that you?

> "I don't care that Leno pushed out Carson, but he can't whine about the same treatment to the press. And he did. Often."

Didn't read that. I saw him talk about it but never interpreted it as whining. Could it be we both viewed his comments through our own preconceived prisms?

> "He was the one who brought up that he'd take the Tonight Show back if it was offered. That's just a classless thing to do."

Brought it up to whom? I believe your time line is askew. I don't think he brought it up before Tonight was offered back to him in a conditional sense, i.e "Would you take 11:35 if we moved Conan to 12:05?". And wasn't that revealed after the fact of the network announcing Conan would be gonzo?

> "Of course the lead in was the problem. Leno killed everything after him at ten. Local news was bleeding ratings. We have remotes and DVRs but your lead in still matters in the ratings game."

That's what I'm not buying, even if it's conventional wisdom. Are there examples where a poor lead-in is followed by a top-rated show? Or vice versa? Have the Simpsons or Glee brought ratings successes to other Fox shows? I'm sure there are other examples. If a show is good enough, people will find it. Do you or anyone you know watch TV by keeping it on one channel all night?

> "Leno's show cut the ratings of the show that followed it drastically and that affected Conan's ratings. We'll never know how a Tonight Show with Conan would have done without Leno. It was never given the chance."

Couple points: Leno was number one for years on Tonight. Was there ever a poorly rated show at 10 o'clock when he was on? There must have been. I realize NBC was a ratings giant for years, but it also sucked for years, too. And Leno maintained his number one rating throughout it all. Also, if Leno gets the blame for Conan's ratings at 11:35, does he get credit for Conan's ratings at 12:35 all those years Leno was number one on Tonight? Conan never was on without Leno on ahead of him.

> "To say it didn't matter is just not understanding how television works. Blocks of programming are what matter, more so than individual shows.
Maybe that'll change in the near future but we're not there yet."

No, it's not *accepting* that's how it works. There are too many exceptions to believe people don't change the channel to watch what they want.

> "Conan is still leading in the youth market which is the main one that matters for advertisers. No one at TBS will be letting him go any time soon."

Not as of Nov. 18, he ain't. Check it out: http://tinyurl.com/2vrrcvr
Not only does Leno tie Letterman in the 18-49 market (hey, I'm still a youth!), he leads in total viewers with 3.7 million, while Conan got 1.6 for the week before last.

> "It doesn't excuse what Leno did. He lied and backstabbed and while that might just be showbiz it took a dump on his good natured everyman image."

I won't argue that.

On a side note, it's interesting that I never read any support of Conan on his own merits; it's always in comparison to Leno. I realize these comments come after a Leno clip, so fair enough. But I'm talking in general.

Anonymous said...

Yep, it's me. Just read Bill Carter's The War for Late Night and I think you'd like it.

People don't talk about Conan's Tonight Show on its own merits for the same reason people talk about what happened to Nancy Kerrigan more than how she skated that night.

Jay brought up his being fired constantly in monologues and interviews like the Oprah one. And when he did he played the victim, shocked that he was retired when he was still on top. The exact same thing he did to Carson. Carson was number one at the time too. That Leno could openly complain about the treatment he got when it was how he got gig himself?

Carson of course stepped aside and didn't comment on Leno's poor ratings or comparisons to Letterman. He didn't do interviews. Leno did the opposite and brought up the subject of taking the Tonight Show back in an interview where he was asked if he missed being on at 11:30. Leno said he'd take the Tonight Show back if it was offered. Not the question that was asked at all.

It's fine that you don't feel blocks of programming matter. Networks do. I used to have a sketch comedy show on CBC and it sure mattered to us what our lead in was.

But really, read the book if you have a chance.

Guy MacPherson said...

You have a singular voice, Ian. I recognize it anywhere!

Just read some reviews of Bill Carter's book and a long excerpt. You're right. I'd like it. But from the excerpt, I still don't see Jay as a villain. I totally see the NBC brass as idiots and bumblers and villains, but not Leno. Not saying he's a hero, but I don't see him as a villain.

From the excerpt it looked like:
1) Leno was accepting of his lot when they first told him they were going to pull his show.
2) They told him they wanted him to go back to 11:30.
3) Leno told the guy he didn't want Conan to get hurt in all of it.
4) They told him he wouldn't be released from his contract if he said no.
5) Jay waffled about it after initial excitement.
6) He asked if Conan would really accept it and was told he would.
7) Jay expressed concern over Conan's staff.
8) Jay offered to call Conan and was told not to. Had that happened, maybe Jay would have heard first-hand from Conan and made another choice. Or maybe not. But we don't know because it didn't happen.

The full excerpt is here: http://my.spill.com/profiles/blogs/excerpts-from-bill-carters?xg_source=activity

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of what it looked like and what might have happened. But we'll never know for sure.

What did happen that we got to see is Leno said he was passing the show to Conan. Conan waited 5 years. Leno began to complain about being fired in his monologues and interviews before he left the show. Conan took over the show and then Leno accepted a 10 oclock show. When Leno's show failed and brought down the news after him and Conan's show had a weak start Leno mentioned in an interview he'd take the show back if offered. It was offered. He took it. He then told Oprah he lied about being okay with how he was ousted. It was the same way he ousted Johnny Carson. So he comes across badly. Conan comes across as a company man who never got a fair shot at the job he waited 5 years for.

I look at it like Mom telling you that even though she's been cooking Christmas dinner every year she's letting her son do it from this point on. He cooks a big dinner but she makes her own full dinner that she serves at 3:00pm. No one really wants dinner then and it doesn't go over as well as her regular dinners. When he serves his two hours later people don't want a second full turkey dinner.
So his meal is considered a failure and she goes back to cooking the meal every year.

Guy MacPherson said...

> "We'll never know for sure."

I was just going off the book you recommended to me, and the one you suggested painted the picture of Leno as villain. The author seems to be good. He's a NYT writer and by all accounts was fair in his treatment of all parties. He talked to all parties. So I'm guessing that's exactly what happened.

> "Leno said he was passing the show to Conan. Conan waited 5 years."

Don't you remember when it was announced by NBC that Conan would be taking over in five years? That was an NBC decision. Leno had nothing to do with it. It was imposed on him. He was number one, but NBC didn't want to lose Conan so they promised him The Tonight Show in five years. It's not like Leno said he was going to go off in a different direction and then NBC moved to find a replacement.

> "Leno began to complain about being fired in his monologues and interviews."

Complain or make jokes? He was making light of the situation that he was being let go. That's fair enough, I'd say.

> "Conan took over the show and then Leno accepted a 10 oclock show."

Right. Again, NBC's decision. And at the time, it was thought to be a bold decision by the network -- a gamble but one that might very well pay off. It didn't. But that happens.

> "Leno mentioned in an interview he'd take the show back if offered. It was offered. He took it."

Here's where I'd like to see some verification. I don't believe that was what happened. Or at least the order of it. And it wasn't suggested in the book you cite.

> "He then told Oprah he lied about being okay with how he was ousted."

You're trying to have it both ways. Earlier, you said he complained about being fired (or ousted, if you will), and now you're saying he lied? I think it's a spin to say he lied; rather he was being a company man. What was he supposed to do?

> "It was the same way he ousted Johnny Carson."

Here's where I need to brush up on my history. I didn't read Carter's first book, either. But my recollection at the time was that Carson was retiring. He had talked about it every year in those last years when his contract came up and he finally decided to retire. So did Leno oust him? Or did he just use Macchiavellian methods to make sure he got the job instead of Letterman (who I was rooting hard for, by the way)?

> "Conan comes across as a company man who never got a fair shot at the job he waited 5 years for."

That is true, but that, as I said, is show biz. You know more than I do about working hard to get a show on the air and then it being unceremoniously pulled. Actors uproot their families to work on a series, put everything into it, then, poof, it's gone. Even if it's great and got great reviews. If the ratings aren't there, it's pulled from the lineup.

Guy MacPherson said...

And a response to the analogy:

> "I look at it like Mom telling you that even though she's been cooking Christmas dinner every year she's letting her son do it from this point on. He cooks a big dinner but she makes her own full dinner that she serves at 3:00pm."

This analogy strikes me as wrong on a lot of levels. 1) We all admit Leno's audience is different from Conan's. So it's not like people would watch Leno at 10 then not feel the need to watch Conan. 2) Talk shows have followed talk shows in late night for years and in daytime, too. The only thing new is the prime time version. 3) Conan was doing nothing like what Jay was doing, except the talking to guests part. 4) What makes it any different from two sitcoms in a row or two dramas? 5) Lunch comes before dinner and mom could make that.

But the questions I asked earlier still stand: Did Leno ever have a weak 10 o'clock show to lead into his show? Has Letterman ever had a really strong 10 o'clock show to lead into his? Have The Simpsons or Glee ever brought ratings success to other Fox shows following them? Should Leno get any of the credit for giving Conan such a strong lead-in all those years when Leno was number one on Tonight? Do you or anyone you know watch TV by keeping it on one channel all night?

Anonymous said...

Too much to answer all at once. But taking it a bit at a time...

1) We all admit Leno's audience is different from Conan's. So it's not like people would watch Leno at 10 then not feel the need to watch Conan.

It's two different turkey dinners. They may be served differently but it's the same meal. Monologue, comedy skit/desk bit and interviews. Maybe a musical number. Same type of show.


2) Talk shows have followed talk shows in late night for years and in daytime, too. The only thing new is the prime time version.

The late night shows have always had a different audience and are sold differently. Craig Ferguson's show is late night for example. It's looser and more bawdy.

The Leno show at 10pm was the same vibe as his 11;30 show. Same type of monologues, desk bits and interviews. Conan was attempting an 11:30 style show. So you have two of the same style of show even though the hosts are very different. Leno's Tonight show and Letterman's Late Show for example are the same style.


3) Conan was doing nothing like what Jay was doing, except the talking to guests part.

Both started the show with topical monologues. They bantered with the band/sidekicks. They did a comedy sketch or desk bit then did interviews with celebrities. For all the differences in personality between Jay and Conan you can't say the show structures were very far apart.


4) What makes it any different from two sitcoms in a row or two dramas?

Two sit-coms? No. Even two dramas, maybe unless they were both the same style. You wouldn't air two CSIs back to back unless it was on a rerun channel.

But a talk show is different. They have to pick from the same pool of celebrities fro guest. The same topics for monologues and the shows are done daily instead of weekly. They fish from the same pond.


5) Lunch comes before dinner and mom could make that.

Oprah is lunch and she does just fine. A different meal at a different time. Serve a full turkey dinner at 3pm before a turkey dinner at 5pm? You're going to ruin the 5pm meal.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Conan bump George Lopez from 11pm to Midnight? KMS