Remember Sept. 14, 2009? Things were simpler then. The fall TV season was about to begin, every new show was a possible hit, and the television world was buzzing about a plucky newcomer who had the potential to change prime-time TV forever.
We’re speaking, of course, of Jay Leno.
So, uh, yeah, that didn’t work out too well. Leno ends his eponymous prime-time show Tuesday night (Feb. 9) without any of the fanfare with which he started. He will be off the air for all of 19 days before he returns as host of “The Tonight Show” on March 1. NBC, meanwhile, will return to a more traditional prime-time schedule with scripted dramas (as well as one unscripted show and “Dateline”) at 10 o’clock on weeknights.
That 19 days, by the way, is the time NBC will have to remake Leno’s studio on the NBC lot in Burbank into the “Tonight Show” set (the set Conan O’Brien used, at Universal Studios, is being dismantled).
Looking back on the Leno prime-time era, well, let’s face it: Not quite five months is not really an era. NBC, which is ending “The Jay Leno Show” a couple days before it initially intended, is clearly trying to put the whole unfortunate exercise out to pasture, an inclination we tend to share. Very few observers outside the Peacock thought it was a good idea to program for profits over ratings, and they were proved pretty emphatically right after the season started in earnest and the initial novelty of Leno’s show wore off.
(Remember this, though: NBC’s initial explanation for moving Leno out of primetime was because his ratings — not those of O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” — were hurting affiliates. Since O’Brien refused to move “The Tonight Show” to midnight, the network has tried to change the narrative, saying it primarily needed to save the ailing franchise. The show’s ratings had suffered greatly, without question, but the this whole mess started with affiliates’ newscasts hemorrhaging ratings with Leno as a lead-in — which, in turn, may have helped contribute to “Tonight’s” decline.)
So that’s that with that. We’d go through the highlights of Leno’s prime-time adventure, but really, is it worth it? When the show’s most memorable moment is arguably the host getting eviscerated by a guest — fellow comedian Jimmy Kimmel — it’s probably best just to move on.
The Winter Olympics will serve as a timeout for all of NBC’s prime-time programming, after which the network will begin the rebuilding process. Again. To be continued in March.
Photo credit: NBC