We’ve now entered the third week of NBC’s new 10 p.m. cost-savings experiment, The Jay Leno Show. Your friendly Vulture editors have been dutifully watching the show on a nightly basis, hoping that things would get progressively less awkward as The Chin gets used to his new time-slot and airplane-hangar-sized studio. Unfortunately, though, the show continues to be a painful experience for almost everyone who gets themselves entangled in its messy web: the guests (who are routinely forced to endure acts of humiliation in an ill-conceived attempt to “earn their plug”), studio-audience members (who can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm to high-five Jay as he walks out onstage five nights a week), viewers at home, and even Jay Leno himself. And although ratings have held above the level at which NBC needs them to in order for the show to remain profitable, it’s beginning to look painfully clear that Jeff Zucker and the rest of the NBC management team have made a mistake that could end up doing irreparable harm to the network’s reputation with both viewers and the creative community. Making matters worse, The New Yorker’s Nancy Franklin penned a terrific piece in this week’s issue that eviscerates just about everyone involved with the production.
Franklin begins her piece by asking the same question that everyone has been asking ever since Jay announced last December that he would not, in fact, be leaving the network. Namely, why didn’t he leave NBC for greener pastures? She accurately notes that he “did workhorse duty for the network for seventeen years, and it dissed him twice, publicly and at length.” Of course, the disses she is referring to involve the botched transition of power when Johnny Carson stepped down as host of the Tonight Show back in 1992, as well as the bizarre public comments that Zucker and crew made over the summer in which they explicitly told the media on multiple occasions that they didn’t really care about the show’s ratings, so long as the show remained profitable. And since Leno never really received a strong vote of confidence from the network, she asks why the insanely rich star didn’t just pack up his things and continue his wildly successful side career as a stand-up comedian.
But considering that he made the choice to remain on the network, Franklin then decides it’s high time to lay into the very flawed show. When discussing the lack of creative quality or ingenuity on the program, she writes that “[t]he forensic evidence so far indicates that a kind of death is taking place before our eyes; the only question is whether what we’re witnessing is an accident or a crime scene.” She then accurately notes that Leno “seems louder, antsier, and more ill at ease than you want in a five-nights-a-week companion,” and also that NBC’s decision to slag the show’s potential in advance of its air dates signals “a whole new level of indifference, resignation, and laziness” in the television business. In short, she notes that the main problem seems to be that no one has a passionate stake in making the show anything other than a consistent revenue generator and a safe vehicle for advertisers to hawk their wares.
So what will become of Jay Leno? As you might expect, It’s far too early to tell. He has a four-year contract with the network to do the show, though NBC has only committed to airing it for two years. As for us, we have yet to delete our season passes, but that’s mainly because it’s our job to keep an eye on this stuff for you, the loyal Vulture reader. However, we are curious as to your thoughts on the show. Have you been watching? Will you continue to watch? What are you doing at 10 p.m. every night, anyway? What can Jay do to make the show better? You know where to sound off!
Leno at the Bat [NYer]