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In another indication that NBC's long-awaited turnaround is underway, the network Wednesday handed a new season to "Chicago P.D." the spinoff of "Chicago Fire," which was also renewed along with "Grimm."
If for some odd reason you are keeping a scorecard, that means "The Blacklist," "The Voice" and "Parks and Recreation" has also been added to the comeback list. This, you'll note, still leaves a lot of empty spaces on your score card, but it also means there will be added pressure on NBC to renew moderate-to-OK performers, including "Parenthood," "Community," and (very likely, in my opinion) the newcomer, "About a Boy." I'd expect a pickup for "Hannibal," too. "Crisis" and "Believe?" Depending on how they do Sunday, both may added to your scorecard one of these days, too.
"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" turned one month old Monday, which means party time!
But hold on. Let's settle down. The party must wait. First, some facts and analysis and critical perspective and quotes. Late night television has changed forever. Has it changed for the better?
To the questions:
So, how is "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" doing?
If the words "spectacularly well" offer a clue, then you have your answer. This launch has exceeded even NBC's expectations, and mine -- an aside offered by someone who has lived through both (and also covered) the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien "Tonight" successions...umm, all three of them.
If numbers tell part of the story -- they almost always do -- then let's get straight to those. Last week, "Tonight" was seen by an average 4.5 million viewers at the regular 11:35 p.m. time, compared to 4.9 million in Jay Leno's last full week on the air.
That was a high-water mark for Leno -- expected for his swan song week. One of the more relevant figures is "Tonight's" performance among viewers 18 to 34 -- Fallon has around a 1 rating, or 700,000 viewers in that age group last week, compared to a 0.7 or 500,000 for Jay in his final, heavily viewed week.
Then, finally, this number: "Tonight" has just less than double the total audience of second-place "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Show with David Letterman" -- both at about 2.7 million last week.
Thanks for the math, but what does it mean?
One month in, the math appears to have resolved the single greatest concern that NBC had going in: Would "Tonight/Leno" viewers sample "Tonight/Fallon," then return for more? So far, the answer is yes and yes.
NBC is completing research to determine how many Leno loyalists have remained, but the preliminary read at the network is that many have -- possibly even most of those who refuse to break their habit and have so far found no reason to do so.
This is a key metric because the bottom fell out from under Conan O'Brien's "Tonight" fairly quickly after his June 1, 2009, launch. Yes, this is something an apples-to-carrots comparison. "Conan" launched midsummer five years ago, and "Fallon" had a tail wind (the Winter Olympics).
Nevertheless, this is March -- a huge month for "homes using television" -- and Fallon's figures are holding up.
What is the age of Fallon's viewers?
The average age is 54, or five years younger than Leno's viewers, and "Late Show's," which is now the oldest audience in late-night TV. It's also a year younger than Kimmel's average.
Just to restate the obvious, youth rules in late night, or at least rules with advertisers -- a key reason Fallon is now host of "Tonight.' But the relative youth of Fallon's crowd indicates that his "Tonight" has actually added new viewers to the mix. Leno's "Tonight" was doing the exact opposite -- losing them.
What does NBC think?
Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman, said in a recent interview, "I have an odd relationship with A.C. Nielsen, and deep in my heart get superstitious [when predicting ratings]. I thought we could run the table with both Jimmy and Seth [Meyers, whose 'Late Night' is also doing very well], but we didn't think it would be this high.
"My read is that we kept who we had and added more [audience], which is hard to do in any day part. That's what makes this so fascinating. It seems too early after a month to make any big general statements, but this could be one of those rare game changers where people have caught on to this guy."
Harbert -- a TV veteran and former chief of ABC Entertainment during its glory days -- says credit is due, beyond Fallon and his team, to "Lorne [Michaels], who has set this network up to be flush in late night talent."
What does the Newsday critic think?
Fallon's "Tonight" is excellent -- superior to Leno's "Tonight" (sorry, Jay, but true). Most of all, the new "Tonight" is refreshing, comfortable and often surprising, which are words seldom heard about late-night TV anymore.
This also feels like a show that knows itself -- knows what it wants to say, and how to say it, or at least how to perform it. Almost all key elements click -- the monologue especially, as well as the many sketches that made the hop from 12:35 to 11:35 with Fallon.
What's unexpected is that this really does appear to be the exact same show as Fallon's "Late Night," right down to the curtain (actually, "Late Night's" curtain was a solid blue. Fallon's "Tonight" is two-tone. Plus, that skyline). NBC and Fallon promised the same show, but how many times are promises kept in this business?
Harbert puts it this way: "The mistake we made at this network is that a lot of time was spent telling Conan how his show should change, but [this time we] said, 'You're not going to have the network telling you what to do and screw it up. Just keep doing what you're doing."
Differences, in fact, are subtle but significant: More host cross-chat with Steve Higgins, most of it improvised and most of it funny; more sketch tie-ins with members of The Roots, like James Poyser or Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, AKA Black Thought; and more monologue (but not that much more; Fallon's monologues still appear to run only around seven or eight minutes at most -- a good length for him.)
The guest segments are the weakest element, to date. Fallon's instincts are to perform, not to interrogate, so these can sometimes feel like free-form chats that lead nowhere fast. He tends to be a "fan" of everyone, has his TiVo filled with "all of their shows" or his iPod with "all of their songs."
Jimmy's a nice guy -- we know that -- but he needs to develop a critical distance and perspective. Even a coolness. That's not a bad thing when you are the host of "The Tonight Show" and therefore arbiter, or at least gatekeeper, of pop culture tastes and trends.
Has the late-night landscape changed with the advent of Fallon?
Perhaps the better way to approach this question is with another question: What about Dave?
Letterman turns 66 April 12. He is -- yes -- the second greatest late night talk show host in TV history, and also the second oldest: Johnny Carson was 66 when he retired in 1992.
The rule in television is, just to restate, ironclad -- older audiences mean reduced profits, and with younger crowds at ABC and NBC, there will also be pressure at CBS to lower its average age, by grooming a new generation of "Late Show" viewers with (alas) a new "Late Show" host.
Letterman, who has a contract through 2015, has given no indication that he plans to step aside -- or as he put it to Oprah during an interview a year or so ago: "When it’s time to go, somebody else tell me. Because I don’t know when it’s time to go.”
No one wants to see Letterman go.
I never want to see Letterman go. He is the greatest, most entertaining, most inventive late-night host in my lifetime. He is Dave. There is no other Dave and never will be.
That said ... reality is reality. Letterman will be moving along someday.
For whom? Replacement possibilities remain the obvious ones -- and Craig Ferguson is not among them. Because "The Late Late Show" host lost regularly to Fallon's "Late Night," there's appears to little chance he would succeed at 11:35 opposite Fallon again, or so the logic goes.
A shame: Ferguson's "Late Late Show" is endlessly amusing, his monologues funny and his sidekick, Geoff, probably the single finest animatronic skeleton in late-night history.
Stephen Colbert's contract at Comedy Central ends this year, Jon Stewart's next year. There now appears to be growing industry consensus that Colbert may now be the heir apparent. Is it the CBS consensus? The Colbert one?
By the way, the average age of "The Colbert Report" viewer is 43.
My kicker: Stephen Colbert could well be the next host of "Late Show."
And of course, this: We'll see.
NBC has a good new drama: How many times have you read those words anywhere over the last year? Even though "The Blacklist" was certainly good, and "Hannibal" has emerged as the real deal, and -- hey! -- a lot of people even liked the launch of "Believe" last Sunday (myself included), the network has been scratching to get back in the elite drama game, with mixed results.
But Sunday has a...Read more »
Exactly two weeks in, how's the most important, pivotal and historic programming move of the year - of many years - going so far, referring here of course to "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"? On the most basic level of them all -- numbers -- almost amazingly well. Thanks to DVR, or time-shifted viewing -- which has essentially become the coin of the realm in late night, making late night TV essentially "watching-the-next-day-during-your-coffee-break" TV -- the show boosted total viewership by 2,000,000 viewers for the first week. That makes for a total of 10.4 million, or the most for one week since Johnny Carson's last week in May of 1992 (just under 20 million -- so, no contest, of course). And here's the clincher: The average age of that audience is just under 53 years of age, or a drop of around six to seven years in age from Jay's show. Keep in mind -- NBC engineered this whole business as a mean of reversing "Tonight's" graying audience.
But from a critical perspective, how is this show doing? There's nothing here that suggests I should change my initial impression -- a positive one -- except that maybe I might offer an even more positive spin at this point: This has been an excellent two weeks for Fallon on the air. Sure, the "interviews" often seem more like rolling kaffeeklatsches absent substance, but with plenty of laughs and non sequiturs (the rambling on about the "Rocky" franchise with Paul Rudd, for example). But get past those -- and they do tend to be amusing -- and you have yourself a revitalized, enjoyable, and surprisingly smart new "Tonight." Fallon's monologues -- of all things! -- have been one of the strong points: Effortless, funny, roll-with-the-punches and smart. Fans knew all along he could nail this show, but the new monologues-on-steroids strategy was certainly something to be concerned about. (Fallon is a fine performer, but he's not a joke machine.) But he's nailed that too.
Meanwhile, the embedded comedy -- for want of a better term -- has been a standout as well. Here is one example: Last night's "Wastepaper Basketball with LeBron James." Not quite comedy, but a catchy interlude nevertheless.
Reasonably insanely big news for all fans of "Heroes:" In a word (or two), it's back. But the even bigger news: It's back with Tim Kring at the helm. A 13-episode "standalone" series arrives in 2015. (Yes, that's next year...)
NBC has announced that the promo, no doubt, will air on tonight's Olympics, and we can all finally wonder - at long last - whether a cheerleader will save the world. (On that note - no word about casting.) Of course this all seems part of a one-show trend - "24" is back in May. "Heroes" will have a chance to recapture some magic next year...
The ever-so-slightly hyperbolic statement from the boss (but yes, it's still exciting news):
"The enormous impact ‘Heroes’ had on the television landscape when it first launched in 2006 was eye-opening,” said NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke. “Shows with that kind of resonance don’t come around often and we thought it was time for another installment. We’re thrilled that visionary creator Tim Kring was as excited about jumping back into this show as we were and we look forward to all the new textures and layers Tim plans to add to his original concept. Until we get closer to air in 2015, the show will be appropriately shrouded in secrecy, but we won’t rule out the possibility of some of the show’s original cast members popping back in.”
Garrick Utley, the veteran NBC News correspondent, anchor and host of "Meet the Press," has died, NBC announced on its air Friday morning.
Below, the clip from the "Today" show, with which Utley was also long associated. Utley, as longtime viewers of network news will attest, was a deeply serious newsman (his parents were also correspondents for NBC News radio) who believed that television...Read more »
So maybe you've had a chance to see the new “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.“ Well...what did you think? Share thoughts if you like, but in the meantime here are some of mine — in no particular order, and because Tuesday's print story was not exactly a review, per se, allow me to use this space to offer a brief critical perspective. And away we go.
* U2 and the 70th floor: Let's begin with the breakout star of the first edition — U2's reasonably mind-blowing performance of "Invisible" without an apparent safety net — only air separating one of the world's most famous bands and concrete 872-feet below. This is a famous piece of real estate within a famous piece of real estate — that famous Depression-era photo, "Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper" was shot here back in the early '30s when the building was nearing completion: Workers sitting on a steel beam high above the streets, eating lunch without helmets. Hard to say whether this confined space has even been used to such spectacular effect since, but Monday night ranks as one of the standout moments for certain, It occurred to me, maybe you, that this could be used again for the same purpose, but the risks seem considerable enough to suggest that this will be one of those one-time-only events...
* The reborn Studio 6B which Fallon vacated last year for this rebirth appeared much larger than the old "Late Night" space, but that may be one of those Trompe-l'œil's TV excels at: Shot from above, it appears vast, but the clues as to real size appeared at the end of the show when Jimmy was scaling the stairs. Maybe not so huge — in fact, only 50 new seats were added. NBC initially was of a mind to blow out a floor (probably up to the 7th) to really make the space huge, but cost (many millions, conservatively, and many millions more realistically) became prohibitive and Fallon didn't really want the larger space. He's said in interviews that he doesn't particularly like playing to balconies. What the designers did apparently do was blow out the floor space in front of a new proscenium instead — which gives the illusion of expanse — and added that gilded bandstand for the Roots. All in all the studio redesign appears to be a real winner for the show.
* Model of the New York skyline behind the host's desk? Sure you've seen that before, or something similar — "Late Show with David Letterman" in the early days had a skyline model behind Dave's desk, complete with a little working toy subway train (the butt of many good jokes...) The backdrop on Dave's set is still very New York-dramatic (a bridge span seen through a pair of big windows behind the host's desk and gives the impression of 3-D, but the old model of the toy city is gone.)
* The monologue was just seconds shy of 12 minutes — actually a combination of introductory comments, followed by jokes — and that's the length to expect going forward. But of note, you may have noticed this wasn't a pound-out-the-jokes style of monologue but one embedded with prepared bits — pictures of Olympics stars, for example, and their "most likely to become" predictions from high school, etc. Expect this to be standard operating procedure going forward — fewer jokes, more embedded sketch material, playing off the day's news. Fallon's not Leno — an industrial strength joke machine, and 12 minutes of joke after joke (after joke) would be a killing pace for someone like him, nor one that would play to his strengths anyway. This seems like a smart solution.
* Will Smith — Why the first interview? Why not! He's got deep ties, no doubt, to Universal and if he doesn't have a movie to sell today, he will tomorrow. He and Fallon do have a good rapport, and Smith seems to genuinely like the new host. This interview did point up one of Fallon's weaknesses however — a tendency to be obsequious, to be incurious... The Fallon interview as a matter of course tends to be light on information, heavy on banter. His questions are barely questions — more like prompts. In this regard, he is a massive departure from Johnny Carson — a superb interviewer, and even Jimmy Kimmel, an excellent one as well. Kimmel in fact has a journalist's eye and ear — he probes, and asks follow-ups, and if not fearless usually doesn't shy from asking hard questions. That's not Fallon — not remotely — but now that he's in the big seat, a degree of inquisitiveness is essential. After all, he's also competing with Jon Stewart — who is one of TV's best interviewers, comedy or news.
* Yeah, that was Lindsay Lohan you saw last night — along with a few dozen other camera-shy celebrities. That $100 bet sketch was a standout of the night — not quite a U2 score, but close enough. It maybe went on too long if anything before the perfect Colbert kicker arrived. But this points out one obvious thing here — Fallon is not working without a net. He has an excellent stable of writers back there behind the big blue curtain; his EP, Josh Leib, worked with Jon Stewart
Bottom line: Good strong start for Jimmy Fallon. Just about everything worked, and worked well, from the opening credits to the final ones. The energy and beauty of New York City was incorporated in a way that exceeded even my expectations — happily exceeded them. Meanwhile, The host: A bit nervous, understandably, he nonetheless reminded fans and people who have never heard of him why he's here. A talented performer who disarms his guests, he is a pure distillation of human likability and charm. Yeah, he needs to work on the interviews, and yeah — you, or at least I — would like just the slightest degree of comic-effect acerbity: That Jack Benny double-take to the camera, or that David Letterman hard edge, or that Jimmy Kimmel bite, or that Jon Stewart refusal to suffer any fool gladly... But Fallon is Fallon. If he goes with his strengths, which are considerable, he should do fine.
It's here, and he's here too — Jimmy Fallon, "The Tonight Show," and television history, for after not quite half a century, this great television franchise has returned to its birthplace. My story in tomorrow's Newsday. Bottom line: Good start.
After a nearly a 42-year absence, the prodigal "Tonight Show" returned home Monday night, with a new host, Jimmy Fallon, and one emphatic nod (or...Read more »
Tom Brokaw, the veteran network TV newsman and former anchor of "NBC Nightly News," has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, according to a statement released late Tuesday by the network and Brokaw.
Brokaw, who was scheduled to be in Sochi covering the Winter Olympics as a correspondent, also released a statement saying, in part, "With the exceptional support of my family, medical team and friends, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come."
According to NBC's statement, Brokaw had learned that he had cancer in August, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The statement added, "his doctors are optimistic about the outcome of the treatment he is receiving, and Brokaw said he remains 'the luckiest guy I know.' "
Brokaw, 74, was named co-anchor of "NBC Nightly News" in 1982, with Roger Mudd, and became solo anchor a year later. Under Brokaw, "Nightly" would become television's most-watched evening newscast, during a long-running battle with Peter Jennings' "ABC World News Tonight." He closed his run on Dec. 1, 2004. Brokaw has remained a prominent figure on NBC, including replacing Tim Russert for a few months on "Meet the Press" following Russert's death in 2008.
Amy Lynn, an NBC News spokeswoman, said Brokaw, who is not in Sochi, has "two pieces that will air within our coverage."
During Tuesday night's "Nightly News," anchor Brian Williams said Brokaw -- an avid outdoorsman and world traveler -- had told him he plans to "join [Bruce] Springsteen's Australian summer tour just to give the boss a bump of added publicity."
Oh sure, Jay Leno's final "Tonight Show" was good -- funny, brisk, lively. Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks were excellent as guests, for they clearly wanted to be there and made the best of an a opportunity that yielded little in terms of professional accomplishment but everything in terms of a personal one, which is rare in show business.
But Leno saved his best for last -- specifically the last eight minutes of this last show when he choked up, pulled the full frame of his body up to his chin in a vain effort to control his emotions -- fleetingly evoking a human-sized Cabbage Patch doll -- and then let the tears fall.
It was a moment, or several of them, that we've never seen of Leno, as though a curtain came up to reveal the real man. Gratifyingly, it was the real man we have always suspected Leno to be.
He thanked his viewers -- didn't call them "fans" -- then he moved on to his family. His mother died early in his run, then his father, and a year after that, his brother, Patrick. "I was pretty much without family," he said, and then -- referring to 200-or-so people who have helped him run this machine called "The Tonight Show" for the past 22 years said, "and the folks here became my family."
For good measure, he added proudly that "Tonight Show" was always a "union shop . . ." (That may well have been a veiled rebuke to the Writer's Guild, which slammed him years ago for writing his monologues during one of the writers' strike, or for something like that. But so what? It was his last show. Jay got in the last word.)
What was so terrific about these last few seconds was the simple fact that Leno -- finally stripped down bare to the emotional studs so to speak, with nothing separating the real person from the millions who have supported him for decades -- did not revert to form and did not hide. He spoke from a heart we've only rarely seen glimpses of over these years, even wrung raw emotion from a heart we knew was there, but hardly ever saw.
And what we saw, in the end, was something -- someone -- both generous and fundamentally decent. The real Jay Leno, ladies and gentlemen.
It was the perfect way to end because it confirmed what everyone -- certainly his supporters if not his detractors -- have suspected all along. Here it is again.