Commentary: 4 Steps to Fix Jay Leno

by | October 22, 2009 at 9:36 AM | 42-Inch Television

Sometimes you have to wonder: if entertainment writers didn’t have NBC to kick around, what would they actually write about? The network might be in fourth place when it comes to ratings, but thanks to Jay Leno, they’re first in column space. More has been written about the big-chinned talk show host than all of the new ABC shows combined… and people actually watch them!

Of course this should come as no real surprise. It feels like journalists have been waiting on their Nikki Finke-style “TOLDJA!” stories since before ‘The Jay Leno Show’ even premiered. Now that it has run into some legitimately unfriendly waters—NBC has lost one-third of their 10 p.m. audience from last year and that shows no signs of improving—writers from coast (Bill Carter in the ‘New York Times’) to coast (Joe Flint in the ‘Los Angeles Times’) have pontificated on the demise of Jay Leno. It’s even gotten so bad that the word “cancellation” has been tossed around.

Oh how the mighty have fallen! This is Jay Leno they’re talking about! The king of late night television! Whether or not you think he’s funny—throw me in the “not” category—doesn’t he at least deserve a better fate than to wind up like ‘My Own Worst Enemy?’ While I’m sure that the millions upon millions of dollars that Leno makes allow him to sleep easy every night, I doubt he ever thought his new show would be going this poorly.

To their credit—or their disservice depending on how you look at it—NBC has continued to preach patience and solid numbers in the 18-49 demographic as pluses to the Leno experiment. (Never mind that ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ which airs on FX beat ‘The Jay Leno Show’ in the 18-49 demographic this week.) However even the most ardent Leno supporter would have to agree that things aren’t going well. With that in mind, here are four sure-fire ways NBC could save ‘The Jay Leno Show.’

Step 1: Move to 10:30 p.m.

Time slot changes are usually the first step towards death for television series—allow me to introduce you to ‘Dollhouse,’ ‘Fringe’ and ‘Ugly Betty’—but, in this case, it could help save ‘The Jay Leno Show.’ Moving Leno to 10:30 p.m. almost makes too much sense. Not only would it give local NBC affiliates—local affiliates that, incidentally, have seen their local news ratings plummet with ‘The Jay Leno Show’ as a lead-in—a chance to get a jumpstart on the other networks with their news coverage (something that Fox has had success with), but it would allow for a consistent three-hour block of talk shows that most people probably wouldn’t flip away from. I’m not saying this would double Leno’s ratings, but every little bit helps.

Step 2: Don’t change anything.

The ratings might be bad and his reputation might be fraying, but that isn’t because of the content. If you liked Jay Leno as the host of ‘The Tonight Show,’ good news: you’d like him as the host of ‘The Jay Leno Show,’ too. His jokes, bits and interview style haven’t changed a bit. And the only major additions—a heavier reliance on comedians, a political/cultural round table discussion reminiscent of ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’—have been solid. Changing any of the content would only serve to alienate his fan base. Stay the course.

Step 3: Except Thursdays, put edgy dramas on at 9 p.m.

While everyone bemoans the fact that NBC doesn’t program any good dramatic series’ now that ‘ER’ has gone off the air, remember that ‘ER’ wasn’t even particularly good during its final few seasons. Moreover, the recently canceled ‘Southland,’ which famously got the boot before one second season episode even aired, wasn’t good either. Can you even think of the last, good drama that NBC premiered? (No, ‘Heroes’ doesn’t count.) The network either needs to stick with comedies—where they’ve had success—or make a concerted effort to get good dramas in the 9 p.m. hour. And make them edgy! This idea that audiences aren’t able to watch darker material at 9 p.m. is ridiculous. Lest everyone forget 9 p.m. is the home of ‘House,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘CSI,’ amongst others.

Step 4: Add some vampires!

Simply, people love vampires. And if all else fails, NBC might as well try something that is sure to work.

Three More Inches

As if you needed further proof that ‘Dollhouse’ isn’t long for this world, the Joss Whedon show will be pulled from November sweeps so that Fox can air reruns of ‘House.’ Ouch. The good news is that this means Whedon is this much closer to making more episodes of ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.’

The ‘Desperate Housewives’ plane crash that is going to wind up disposing of some main characters is yet another example of why Marc Cherry is a fantastic showrunner. He knows exactly how to keep his series fresh.

And finally… as a huge fan of the short-lived ‘Miss/Guided,’ here’s hoping Judy Greer’s next foray into the world of ABC comedies, ‘I’m With Stupid,’ winds up lasting a bit longer.