Tag Archives: Jay Leno

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Nineteen years ago today, Johnny Carson said goodbye.

Retiring after thirty years at the age of 66, Carson walked away from a show that became part of the fabric of American pop culture. Much like Ed Sullivan’s variety show, unknown performers could become instant superstars just by nailing a single appearance. Carson didn’t start the Tonight Show (Steve Allen and Jack Paar preceded him), nor would he finish it, but his impact upon it and the late-night talk show design will forever be paramount.

Other talk shows of the day were warm and fuzzy (Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas) or a bit cerebral (Dick Cavett); Carson blended both with a parade of incredible guests and a willingness to be as serious or silly as the situation required. He let people be themselves. During his reign, the show’s title became secondary to the man; artists simply referred to “being on Carson“.

On his final night, Carson went out with grace and class:

And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”

Video: Excerpts from the final show

Although he never came back into the public eye, his legacy lives on through everyone who speaks into a microphone from behind a desk, and the advent of cable television has allowed many students to co-exist in the form. While initially his replacement Jay Leno and his protegé David Letterman split the bulk of the audience, a flood of worthy children now occupy the night-time hours and will be worthy successors to their aging mentors.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have taken the political end of the spectrum to new heights; Stewart is often singled out as the most trusted source of news on television, despite his consistent disclaimer that his is a comedy show. (Speaks volumes about the networks, doesn’t it?).

After holding slots previously occupied by both Leno and Letterman, Conan O’Brien’s new TBS effort proved that people will follow the man, not the show. The embarrassing NBC debacle was followed by the guerilla Team Coco movement, and Conan remains a strong brand and a unique personality.

After shaky starts, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and especially Jimmy Fallon have proven to have solid and consistent programs that attract first-rate guests and feature brilliant writing. Along with smaller network show hosts (Chelsea Handler, George Lopez, Mo’Nique, Graham Norton), the comedy/music/chat formula is in good hands.

But to a person, each will point a finger back at the master, Johnny Carson.

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Let’s Hear It For The Girl

My daughter Eli attends Emerson College, a phenomenal place for anyone interested in entertainment, whether production or performance. Lots of famous alumni of course – among them Stephen Wright, Bill Burr, Gina Gershon, Jay Leno, Denis Leary, Henry Winkler and Norman Lear. Successful show creators, too – her freshman dorm was funded by Max Mutchnick (creator of Will and Grace) and last year ahe worked with Friends creator Kevin Bright  to create a sitcom from scratch. Doug Herzog, President of Comedy Central, is another graduate.

 The list goes on and on…if I were a high school grad interested in a career in the arts I would crawl through broken glass while on fire just to apply. (Or at least ride a bike.) Of course, when I was looking at colleges, that area of Boston was known as the Combat Zone, rivaling the pre-Guiliani Times Square for opulent decadence. Today it’s the Theatre District, much hipper than the sanitized Disney-fication of the most famous intersection in Manhattan.

My enthusiasm is exactly the opposite for Lady Gaga – it’s the kind of processed dance pop that makes my skin crawl. But my Dad didn’t “get” The Beatles; likewise I’m not the target demo for the songs that she/he/it creates.

But even I have to give props for this amazing Emerson Lip Dub.

Most schools have an informative brochure or website to give potential students an idea of what it’s like to attend their university. I think the Admissions Department just trumped the competition – courtesy of the effort of over four hundred students. Kudos, Emersonians!

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Emmy Nominations – Not Bad!

Shiny objects distract me.

 

The 62nd Annual Emmy Awards take place at the end of August but the announcements were made this week. Normally that’s great timing for television networks because their seasons are done and they need to attract attention to themselves and away from the summer blockbuster movies. 

But things have changed – basic cable has flexed its muscles in recent years, and proven powerhouses like The Closer, Mad Men and Rescue Me have just started their seasons. More shows have followed suit, and frankly White Collar and Louie are as entertaining as anything the networks have launched during the traditional season. And now that DVRs and TiVo are commonplace, there’s no longer a concern about weak numbers from failing to lure viewers inside on a nice summer night. 

Perhaps for that reason the networks seemed to be willing to take some chances last year – the Jay Leno 10pm debacle aside – and the voters seem to have responded. Like the Oscars, voters have tended to lean towards veteran shows, some nominations seemingly for a prior oversight or a body of work rather than the eligible time period. But this year freshman hits Modern Family and Glee dominated the nominations, although the multiple acting nominees might split the votes and give the advantage to the other actors. 

Omissions aplenty, like Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and even Ed O’Neill on Modern Family. And my hopes of Better Off Ted getting its post-mortem due were crushed. But I was happy to see unexpected nods for unheralded and solid work, especially Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) and both Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights. And the final season of Lost did not go unnoticed, although it’s a shame that Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn can’t both win a statue. 

Looking at all the categories I was astounded at the level of detail. Awards for best single camera editing on a reality series? Best hair styling in a drama? Best commercial? But I’m glad to see categories like Best Casting, a reward hopefully for a solid ensemble show where everybody just looks right  (even if there are several glaring omissions). 

Here’s some of the major nominees and a link to the official Emmy website listing all the categories. I’ll make my predictions closer to the date. 

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper
Larry David as Himself
Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester
Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk
Steve Carell as Michael Scott
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy 

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Bryan Cranston as Walter White
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan
Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House
Matthew Fox as Jack Shephard
Jon Hamm as Don Draper 

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Lea Michele as Rachel Berry
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Christine Campbell
Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon
Toni Collette as Tara Gregson 

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson
Glenn Close as Patty Hewes
Connie Britton as Tami Taylor
Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick
Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson
January Jones as Betty Draper 

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel
Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson
Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell
Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker
Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy
Jon Cryer as Alan Harper 

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman
Martin Short as Leonard Winstone
Terry O’Quinn as John Locke
Michael Emerson as Ben Linus
John Slattery as Roger Sterling
Andre Braugher as Owen 

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester
Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy
Sofia Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett
Kristen Wiig as Various Characters
Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney
Holland Taylor as Evelyn Harper 

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen
Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons
Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma
Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart
Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson 

Outstanding Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm • HBO
Glee • FOX
Modern Family • ABC
Nurse Jackie • Showtime
The Office • NBC
30 Rock • NBC 

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad • AMC
Dexter • Showtime
The Good Wife • CBS
Lost • ABC
Mad Men • AMC
True Blood • HBO 

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TV or not TV?

Get back here and WATCH ME, dammit!!

It’s been an interesting year for television.

With ratings sinking, cheap reality programming gaining traction and a couple of long-running landmark programs coming to an end, the landscape for the next year or two might be a complete crapshoot. 

Although I don’t spend my time wallowing in celebrity gossip, I do find the machinations of the television industry fascinating. And this year has been particularly bizarre, with the whole Leno/Conan debacle the biggest story of the year – unless you want to separate Leno’s return to The Tonight Show from the single greatest disaster in prime time history. Ironic that Jay would make Headlines wither way. 

"Man single-handedly kills 15 hours of broadcasting"

Somehow The Simpsons keeps rolling along, South Park remains controversial and long running franchises Law And Order and CSI Wherever multiply like rabbits. Networks try to feed us more copycat cop crap, lame lawyer shows and miserable medical dramas. When they come up with something original (FlashForward) or even a reinvention of a past success (V) they forget that a complex serialized drama can’t have a huge gap in its schedule or momentum will be lost. (And speaking of Lost, someone at ABC couldn’t even understand the concept of  the phrase “uniterrupted schedule”, choosing to air a repeat episode April 25th). 

Fox has announced that 24 is ending this season, no doubt largely in part to the high cost of the program. But they hit the jackpot with Glee, and hopefully will pour some American Idol profit into keeping the wonderful Fringe alive. NBC looks like it might finally have a Thursday night comedy block again (Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock) but is scrambling to replace the third of their schedule that The Jay Leno Show wiped out. If ABC drops it’s two high-priced sci-fi shows and cancels Heroes, they virtually  concede Monday and Tuesday nights; only Castle and Modern Family have broken the mold of celebretard programming. CBS might have found a winner in The Good Wife but the network is still more likely to clone a show than create one. 

 It’s not all hopeless. USA came up with a winner in White Collar which should help ease the loss of Monk.  Friday Night Lights returns this week thanks to the cost-sharing deal between NBC and DirecTV, whereby DirecTV gets to air the series on pay TV in the Fall, then NBC gets to air it on broadcast TV in the Spring. (Maybe that strategy can save shows like Damages and Southland; adult oriented drama that doesn’t pull vampire numbers in the ratings.) 

And the summer brings us basic cable winners like The Closer and Rescue Me and Mad Men as the more nimble basic cable channels like TNT, AMC and FX counter-program the dead season. Elmore Leonard on television is a good thing.  Louis C.K. on television is a good thing. 

If the smaller channels can get it right…why can’t the major networks? Pretty soon it’s all going to be internet television anyway, so the smart and savvy will survive. There is still a large audience that wants great storytelling and well-written comedy

But every year I still cringe when brilliant shows get cancelled. Watching the slow death of Better Off Ted was reminiscent of Arrested Development’s demise, only accelerated. And why would you have a show called The Unusuals and not let it be…unusual? But I could just be bitter. Hell, I still haven’t forgiven CBS for cancelling EZ Streets. 

There are a few excellent resources for those of you looking into that crystal ball wondering what’s happening with your favorite shows…or with the schedule in general. You’ll probably want to bookmark them. The week of May 17th might be D-Day for many of these programs as the networks finish Sweeps and sharpen the axes.

 

The Futon Critic is an excellent resource for TV news and even includes this handy guide to how many episodes are left for each program. Shows are listed by network in a cancel/renewal status grid  (note that a lot of them are TBD). 

The aptly named Is My Show Cancelled site focuses on just that very thing. 

TV By The Numbers takes a more statistical approach to the situation, tracking ratings on a daily basis and making some predictions based upon trends and historical decision points.

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Holy Crap! Conan to TBS!

I guess George Lopez is taking to everybody these days.

First Sandra Bullock. Now Conan.

“If you haven’t heard by now, Conan O’Brien will be joining us on late-night on TBS. Welcome!, Welcome! I want to say this, I want to say that I am completely 100% on board with this move. I talked to Conan on Wednesday and I talked to him last night and I said I welcome you into my deep loving embrace. Then I said let’s take the party and make it bigger and take it into the next generation of late-night TV. Lets do that! Lets do that! Lets do that! Everybody’s heard of ‘I’m with CoCo’ but now everybody can ‘Go LoCo’.”

Lopez also made a great crack about how doing his show an hour later wouldn’t be the same – basically a nod and a wink to Conan’s response to NBC. Of course, he’s able to laugh because he knows that he just scored a major lead-in for his show.

Yeah, I was shocked at the TBS signing; I figured FOX was in the driver’s seat all the way. And I wasn’t the only one with dropped jaw. But it makes sense for a network that refers to itself as “very funny”. They need to be very funny. And Conan fills the bill.

Face it, the Tonight Show is a brand name, but the legacy is irrevocably tarnished. People refer to the choice as Leno or Letterman, not Late Night vs. The Tonight Show. And Leno’s viewing audience is old…and getting older. Lopez, on the other hand, skews young. So does Conan. Tonight might have the name, but lately Jimmy Fallon is hipper, and NBC knows it. Enjoy that deal with the devil.

This year TBS even tried a comedy show – underpromoted, of course – called Very Funny. Imagine how much talent they will attract when the comedians know they will be cross-promoted on Conan’s show…where they will also appear. Imagine the new wave of comedians that will get airtime knowing that they are on basic cable, not network television.

And frankly, aside from the depth of penetration, what is network television? Very few cities still receive over-air broadcast; it’s almost all digital. Most people get something beyond basic cable, and many of those basic cable packages include TBS. And thanks to Al Gore, we have this medium you’re using right now. In other words, a platform is a platform in the twenty-first century. If you want to see something, you can.

All Conan did over the past year was (1) legitimize his ability on the grander stage, (2) exit a horrible situation with class, good will and a shitload of money, and (3) raise his profile ten times higher than a great run on NBC would have done. Win, win and win.

I cannot wait! Until then, catch the mad redhead on the road.

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Tonight, Again

Uh-Oh...the Olympics are over.

I just can’t get past it

I was fine with NBC just being jackasses to begin with, and then making the stupidest move in recent television history, and then after Conan’s classy exit I was ready to let it all go. 

I mean it’s just television, right? 

But no, NBC had to start airing those smarmy commercials using lyrics from “Get Back” to insinuate that the universe has course-corrected itself. As if they fixed a mistake rather than creating two. And now that the Olympics are over, there’s no more Conan and we’ve reset the clock to…I dunno, melba toast

I bear no personal animosity towards Jay Leno. I saw him years ago doing standup; he was both funny and congenial. I don’t pretend to know what’s really going on behind the scenes. But I do know when I’ve had enough. 

So here’s a question for you, NBC network geniuses: If you really have to launch a mass-market campaign to make certain viewers know that Jay Leno is back on the Tonight Showafter every magazine, newspaper, web site and blog beat this horse to glue for a solid month – is it possible that maybe it wasn’t the right move after all? 

Video: Ricky Gervais  

Not to mention that this seven minutes of  Ricky Gervais’ on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was probably funnier than anything the Tonight Show will show all year

So maybe you do need my free plug after all.

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One Last Word on the Subject

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