Sunday, September 27, 2009

Never Judge a Show by its Pilot: The Jay Leno Show

First impressions:
This is the most talked about new show amongst my circle friends and colleagues. Most of the conversations have nothing to do with the show itself but the show's overall impact on television. As I mentioned in my article Fall 2009, “Reality and talent competition shows are taking over and it is not because the scripted shows are bad... well not all of them are bad. It’s not because viewers aren't watching them. It is because they cost too much (Meaning reality and talent competition shows are cheaper to produce). Shows are being canceled for purely economic reasons. Perhaps that is why some shows would disappear then reappear with little fanfare. Then the network's bean counters can say, "Look, we put the show back on and nobody is watching it. CANCELED!"”
The success or failure of this show will have an impact on TV as we know it and for that reason it is going to be hard for me to be impartial when watching the show.

I saw the press conference that NBC held to announce Jay's new show (It's Official: Jay Leno to Get New Show on NBC). Jay opened with a few jokes to lighten the mood but also brought home three important points:
1, He had never planned to retire.
2, He does not have a feud with Conan O’Brian.
3, The new show will have some of The Tonight Show elements like a monologue, Jay Walking and Headlines.

Once the floor was opened for questions, many members of the entertainment press kept asking Jay the same three questions over and over again.
1, Why did you decide not to retire?
2, So are you getting along with Conan O'Brian?
3, What are you going to do on the new show?

Not only did Jay already answer these questions in his opening remarks, many entertainment reporters kept repeating the same questions, some actually brought their own cameras and spotlights to shoot themselves asking those already asked questions and Jay patiently answered those same questions over and over again. The entire endless loop of a press conference, with the repeated questions, was aired on NBC’s News Raw where Jay came off looking better than the network executives on stage with him and the entertainment press in front of him.

I realize that the members of the entertainment press will be asking the fluff questions that are usually no more complicated than "Who you wearing?", but once the fluff questions were asked:
a) They should not be asked again.
b) The reporters should have to go to different, more serious or dare I say a hardball questions.

No one asked about how Jay's show will have an impact on television, about all the thousands of industry jobs that would be lost if the show is successful or even if the show will have a negative impact on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. Jay is a big boy and has had to answer tougher questions from the press over the past thirty years (I'm Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder).

Not to optimistic.
I don't see the show taking viewers away from returning shows in the same time slot like Castle, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Private Practice, The Mentalist, 20/20, and Numbers but may stand a better chance against new shows like The Forgotten, The Good Wife and Eastwick.

On the positive side, the show will air 48 weeks out of the year allowing Jay to take advantage of competing shows being on hiatus.

Normally I watch the pilot of a show then the following episode and do a comparison contrast. For this program I watched the first couple of weeks of shows and note my observations as simple bullet points.

· The show's opening looks like a 1980s stand up comedy show. I do like the use of old pictures of Jay in the opening and that got me thinking that many people miss the old Jay. The Jay Leno that used to be a favorite guest on Late Night with David Letterman. The "What's my Beef?" Jay. When Jay became Johnny Carson's permanent guest host he also became mainstream but there was always look he would give his fans as to say, "Can you believe NBC is letting me do this. I want to see the same Jay that I see driving classic cars on the streets of Burbank, not the former steward of The Tonight Show.

· Did the set come from IKEA? The floor plan might work but the decor does not say "Jay".

· The theme does not work for me either. Why couldn't he keep his theme from The Tonight Show? FYI: This is the only thing that should come over from the old show because it is Jay's theme. Each Tonight Show host had a signature theme song.

· The monologue is standard Jay.

· The comedy sketches tend to go on long past the punch line (Cheaters).

· You can only get a Hugh Grant moment with Hugh Grant, not Kanye West.

· The Headlines segment should follow the monologue.

· Jim Norton's Uninvited Guest segment shows more of the direction the show should take. Most of the humor lacks a point of view.

· Jay sets up the local news teasers and broadcasts in a very up beat way. I see the local anchors respond with an excited, "Thanks Jay". What if something bad happens between Jay's show being pre-taped and the local news live broadcast?

· The jokes about NBC being in 4th place are getting old. This note goes for everyone, not just Jay.

· The Ten@Ten segments are too bland most of the time. Barney Frank’s segment was good.

· The Green Car Challenge seems to be missing something.

· The Pee-Wee Herman segment seemed like filler. It seems too soon to need filler.

· Great White Moments in Black History is another segment that seems to live up to the shows promise. It is short, sweet, and to the point.

· JMZ (A spoof of TMZ) is very contrived. The first part looks like something one would see on a Nickelodeon show. The second part looked like a sophmoric attempt to make a statement about TMZ, but fell short. Jay’s Talent pool is smarter than that. Your audience is smart enough to know that the people in the Jaywalking segments are stupid.

· Nick Thune Changes your life is a great segment and hopefully these young comedians will get more airtime.

· Jay did a great job debating Rush Limbaugh. I want to see more of that Jay. Jay has a point of view but always likes to play the middle of the road. His show - His point of view.

· Internet Success and Failure is funny once a week but I think that the real fun is in the audience submitting the video the same way people send clippings for the Headlines segment.

· Don’t make the guest earn their plug.

· The idea that this new show is different, bold and groundbreaking should be reflected in the look of the shows opening, the set and Jay's wardrobe. To be fair, I know that there were test shows done prior to the first shows airing and perhaps some of my points were experimented with and did not go well with the audience.

On the subject of Jay Leno I seem to be the most pragmatic person I know. I also feel that Jay's career has been judged unfairly. Often in their criticism they omit huge chunks of information making Jay subject to a revisionist entertainment history. Over the past thirty years, Jay has been associated with many controversies. Strangely enough most of controversies are not associated with his jokes. Sometimes the guy can't win for trying. Jay started his career as a nonconformist. When he went mainstream, many fans felt he had sold out. I understand that when he had The Tonight Show he was the shows caretaker and had to fit the shows mold. Again, I say, "Just be Jay".

To quote Jay Leno in response to the Time magazine headline that you're "the future of television"? “Well, that is hilarious. That shows you the trouble we are in. I mean, if you read the article it's just telling you, I think, that television has to change. The advertising dollars are not there anymore. The numbers that get you to No. 1 now are numbers that would have gotten you canceled 20 years ago. I mean I never thought I'd see the day when prime-time shows would be in single digits in the ratings. I can remember when Nancy Kerrigan hosted 'Saturday Night Live' and only got a 14 rating and everybody went, "Oh, we thought it'd be higher than that." Well, 14, that would make you the biggest hit in the history of NBC these days. So, you know, it's a different model. It's a changing thing”,

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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