Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Craig Kilborn Speaks in a Talk Show News Exclusive: He's Retired

After asking "Whatever happened to Craig Kilborn?" in a post that's become the #1 most viewed on this blog, I finally succeeded in tracking down Kilby's representatives so I could ask them for a statement on what the former "Late Late Show" and "Daily Show" host is up to these days. Here's the news, and it's not looking good for fans hoping for a comeback.

When Craig Kilborn gracefully exited late night he referred to it as "early retirement" and he wasn't bluffing. Mr. Kilborn spends his days restoring his 1927 Spanish home in the hills, listening to Miles Davis, and drinking moderately priced red wine. "Is $70 a bottle expensive?" asked Craig. "I've kinda lost touch."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Conan O'Brien's Head Injury: a "cautionary tale"

One of the problems with writing this blog from the West Coast is that the late night shows have already aired hours before we Californians get to see 'em. But as East Coast Conan-watchers already know, O'Brien showed clips of his accident, calling it a "cautionary tale" for kids, and, writes the Associated Press, joked about it in his monologue: "As many of you may know, on this past Friday's show I was doing a stunt and I hit my head and suffered a slight concussion. And I promise, if you're a good audience, I'll do it again tonight." He also suggested that he's going to try a similar exercise with another "Desperate Housewives" star: "So tune in tomorrow when Eva Longoria pushes me down an elevator shaft."

Here's a clip (note that Andy Richter is back on the couch!):

TV MoJoe blogger Joe Adalian Twitters that Jay Leno cracked a couple of jokes about the incident: "Kevin, we were almost back at 11:30" and "Since he works at NBC, it was a suicide attempt."

Jay Leno Show: "The saddest of carnivals"

The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin watched the first several episodes of "The Jay Leno Show" and penned a scathing review. "NBC’s attitude toward 'The Jay Leno Show' signals a whole new level of indifference, resignation, and laziness," writes Franklin. "Leno calls himself 'a big-tent guy,' but this isn’t big-tent show business; this is the saddest of carnivals."

Meanwhile, a company called Empower MediaMarketing commissioned a study to find out what the people, as opposed to those snooty East Coast media elites, think of Leno's program: "Reviewing a sample of 500 tweets mentioning Leno during the first week of his show makes it clear that, for the most part, consumers on Twitter do not like 'The Jay Leno Show.' While 18 percent of the sample offered an opinion of the show, 75 percent of the Twitter-based reviews were negative." (Of course, a bunch of those Twitterers may have been TV critics.) In the offline world, "Sixty-five percent of adult viewers say they expect to watch the show at least twice a week in the future, while 27 percent of viewers say they expect to watch four or more shows a week," according to a public opinion study of 1,000 adults 18 and older.

An important audience, NBC affiliates, is cautiously optimistic about the show's performance so far. "Affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile says reaction was 'mixed,'" writes Broadcasting and Cable's Michael Malone. "'Some like it, and some would like to see changes,' he says. 'It's early on, and a lot will change as the network fine-tunes the show.'"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Conan O'Brien's Injury: New Details

ETonline.com has the freshest scoop on Conan O'Brien's head injury, which forced the cancellation of last night's "Tonight Show." Teri Hatcher, who was one of the guests on the aborted broadcast, said in an interview that she and Conan were taping a segment inspired by a triathalon the actress had recently finished.

"We did this bit and at the very end... he slipped as he was crossing the finish line and hit his head," Teri told "The Insider"'s Lara Spencer. "And the thing was, I was in front of him so I didn't see it initially.

"He didn't get off floor right away, but then he [seemed] like he recovered and [pulled] it together, and they did an instant replay, and you could really see his head hit the floor. He did go to the hospital and he does have a concussion."

Conan is recovering and should be back in the studio for Monday night's show, which is scheduled to feature Drew Barrymore, jockey Joe Talamo and the rock band Paramore.

Late night highlight: Jimmy Kimmel and the world's largest meatball

While catching up on some TiVo'd episodes of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," I got a kick out of Kimmel's efforts to break the world record for the World's Largest Meatball -- and bring the glory back to America (apparently, Mexico set the record last month, in a Cancun-based promotion for the film "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"). U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!!

The enormous ball was cooked up at the annual Feast of San Gennaro, a Kimmel-founded celebration of Italian food and culture. The feast benefits the San Gennaro Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization, established to aid children and families in need in the Los Angeles area. If I lived closer to L.A., I'd so be there right now eating pizza and cannoli.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Conan O'Brien: Head injury brings on a rerun

Why was tonight's new episode of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" abruptly replaced by an August rerun with guest Jeremy Piven? Turns out O'Brien was rushed to the hospital via ambulance after injuring himself while doing a stunt.

E! Online reports that "O'Brien was running down a flight of stairs when he slipped and banged his head, possibly sustaining a concussion."

A statement from the host indicates that he's recovered enough to joke around. "Last thing I remember I was enjoying the play with Mrs. Lincoln, and the next thing I knew I was in bed being served cookies and juice," O'Brien said.

Tonight's scheduled guests were Teri Hatcher, Seth MacFarlane and Rodrigo y Gabriela.

David Letterman scores another big guest: Madonna

Wednesday's "Late Show" will feature the guest who "loves to shock us": Madonna.

The appearance will be her eighth on the CBS show; her last visit to the Ed Sullivan Theater was on Jan. 11, 2007.

No idea yet whether or not Madonna will just be interviewed or if she'll perform a song from her latest release, Hard Candy. Also unknown: whether or not one or both of the night's previously scheduled guests, Woody Harrelson and Harry Connick Jr., will be bumped.

David Letterman celebrates 5,000th show

Tonight is quite a milestone for David Letterman: his 5,000th late night show.

He did 1,810 episodes of "Late Night" on NBC and, as of Friday, 3,186 broadcasts and four primetime specials of CBS's "Late Show." According to CBS' press release, in tonight's monologue, Dave says: "People say to me, ‘Dave, what keeps you working night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year after year? Seriously, why do you keep working?' And I just tell them, ‘Well, Foxwoods gambling resort.'"

Tonight's guests will be Bruce Willis (rescheduled after being bumped by President Obama), LL Cool J, and Noisettes.

How does Dave compare to other long-running late night hosts? Johnny Carson did 4,531 episodes of "Tonight," according to Wikipedia, and Jay Leno hosted 3,775. Before leaving "Late Night," Conan O'Brien presided over 2,725 broadcasts.

A couple of years before his late night career began, David Letterman hosted 90 episodes of a morning show on NBC.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Got a question for Craig Ferguson?

Sure, he's going to be on a bunch of shows promoting his new book, but this is the only tour stop we know of where you can actually talk to Craig yourself: he's scheduled to be the guest on Thursday afternoon's episode of NPR's "Talk of the Nation" call-in show. It is due to air at noon on the West Coast, 3 PM in the East. The show's phone number is (800) 989-8255, and you can also submit questions via email.

Here's the NPR station finder; if your local public radio affiliate doesn't air Talk of the Nation, you can stream it online at many stations (I like Michigan Radio). The show will be archived on the TotN web site a few hours after it has aired.

As is always the case with NPR, entertainment guests can and will be bumped in case of breaking news.

Last month, Ferguson appeared as a guest on another NPR show, "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Politicians gone wild! Obama brings high ratings to Letterman

I'm a bit of a political junkie, so this was my viewing schedule last night. I turned on "Dancing with the Stars" in time to see former Rep. Tom DeLay do the cha cha cha to the tune of "Wild Thing" with the lovely Cheryl Burke; he was not terrible, but the sight of DeLay shaking his sweatpant-covered butt in the rehearsal footage was far more tragic than magic, to paraphrase head judge Len Goodman. Then it was over to "The Jay Leno Show," where Rep. Barney Frank was the target of Jay's 10 @ 10. Rep. Frank is known by both Democrats and Republicans as one of the quickest wits in Congress and he got off a few good lines; when Leno asked him with whom he would prefer to dine, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, he replied: "I guess of the three, I would take Rush Limbaugh, because it would be very painful, and he would come with the painkillers."

Finally, it was time for the main attraction: President Barack Obama on "Late Show with David Letterman." The segment started out with a bit of levity, with President Obama asking to take a closer look at a heart-shaped potato that an audience member had inexplicably brought with her to show Dave. After the president pocketed the spud, the conversation turned to weightier matters, like race and health care reform. I missed the president's Sunday morning chat show appearances, so I can't compare his "Late Show" sit-down to those segments, but Dave once again proved himself to be a thoughtful and respectful interviewer. I especially like the way he allows an interview to be serious without feeling the need to come up with a punch line to lighten the mood, something Jon Stewart too often does with his heavyweight political guests.

The overnight ratings were kind to DeLay, not so much to Jay: "DWTS" was watched by 17.5 million viewers, making it the top show of the night, even though its numbers were down from the last season premiere. (A new episode of "House" proved formidable competition.) "Leno" dropped to a new low, with 5.6 million viewers, not a surprise since it was up against a new "CSI: Miami." In late night, the president helped boost Letterman's ratings to a four-year high: Dave won a 5.6/14 (household rating/share) compared to Conan's 1.9/5. Letterman even dominated in the coveted™ 18-49 demographic.

Since you probably weren't watching, here's Rep. Frank on "Leno":

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Daily Show" adds to its trophy count; all the talk show Emmy results

If your office has an Emmy pool, remember the cardinal rule of Emmy-picking -- vote for whatever won last year. "Mad Men" and "30 Rock" were both repeat winners, and how about "The Amazing Race," which has won the Outstanding Reality Competition award about a zillion years in a row now.

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" picked up yet another trophy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series -- its seventh in a row. It bested "Late Show With David Letterman," "Real Time With Bill Maher," "Saturday Night Live" and "The Colbert Report."

In addition, "Daily" won its sixth Emmy in the Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program category (its last victory was in 2006). The other nominees were "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "Late Show With David Letterman," "Saturday Night Live" and "The Colbert Report." The Writing award is always an Emmy highlight -- gotta love Billy Crystal singing the names of the "Letterman" staff writers, and O'Brien "ignoring" his scribes' Facebook friend requests. Emmy powers-that-be, you've got to keep this award on the broadcast every year, because it's routinely the funniest 2 minutes on the entire show.

"Much Worse Things" from "A Colbert Christmas" had scored a nod for Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics, but it was beaten by the opening number for the Oscars. "Christmas" also lost for Outstanding Art Direction For Variety, Music Or Nonfiction Programming category (the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards and "American Idol" tied), as well as in the Outstanding Picture Editing For A Special (Single Or Multi-Camera) category (to Chris Rock's "Kill The Messenger" special).

"The Colbert Report"'s director Jim Hoskinson, Chuck O'Neil of "The Daily Show" and Jerry Foley of "Late Show with David Letterman" were nominated in the Outstanding Directing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Series category. They lost to "American Idol," which also claimed the Outstanding Lighting Direction (Electronic, Multi-Camera) For Variety, Music Or Comedy Programming trophy over the lighting directors of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Show With David Letterman." "Idol" triumphed yet again in the Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control For A Series, beating "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Show With David Letterman."

Two "Daily Show" editors were nominated for Outstanding Short Form Picture Editing, but the award went to another pair: it was a tie between the editors of "The 81st Annual Academy Awards" and "Stand Up to Cancer." "Daily"'s Correspondents feature on its web site lost the Outstanding Special Class - Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs category to "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," starring Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris (who did a great job, I thought).

In Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media - Nonfiction, the "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" web site won the award over the "Top Chef" and "SNL" sites, while "Jay Leno's Garage" lost the Outstanding Special Class - Short-format Nonfiction Programs prize to Fox Movie Channel's "Writer's Draft."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jay Leno, night 2: Ratings dip, Conan is scary!

Not surprisingly, the second night of "The Jay Leno Show" lost quite a few viewers -- about 10.74 million people watched the show, compared with almost 18 million for its debut episode. Still, Jay plus "The Biggest Loser" premiere were enough for NBC to win the night. Ratings in the second half-hour dipped, according to the New York Times, something that could be a concern for the affiliates wanting a strong lead-in to their 11 PM newscasts. Maybe Kanye West's apology is a bigger draw than filmmaker Michael Moore singing an a capella rendition of "The Times, They Are A-Changin'"? Just guessing.

I tuned in to see what Leno had in store for Night #2, and only got one big laugh out of the show. The final segment showed Jay dropping in on people in Burbank at 9:45 PM to see what they were doing at that time, in the hopes that he could help them get ready to settle down and watch his show at 10. The first home he visited had two small children, a toddler and a baby. After reading the older child to sleep (from a car magazine), Jay came out to try and put the infant to bed. The parents told him that the baby was scared of Conan O'Brien, something that was then proved to hilarious effect. Poor Conan! Talk about adding insult to injury.

The remote segment itself seemed quite Conan-like, except O'Brien's out-of-the-studio interactions always seem pretty spontaneous -- Leno's was anything but. How else can you explain Leno's knocking on the door of a woman who was in the process of writing a song, and he just happened to have Ludacris in tow to help her with the lyrics?

As for the rest of the show, Jim Norton's "airlines suck" rant seemed to go on as long as the previous night's Dan Band carwash segment, and the satellite interview with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise was painful. The "10 @ 10" concept seems ripped off from Craig Kilborn's old "Five Questions" schtick, and while all the questions were pretty dumb, the writer who came up with the idea of asking Cruise which he did best, flying a plane or having sex, should be forced to watch "Eyes Wide Shut" 10 times in a row.

Tonight's "Leno" will feature Robin Williams and Miley Cyrus.

Here's the "Getting Ready For 10" remote segment:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jay Leno Round-Up: Great ratings, so-so reviews

NBC's relentless promotion paid off -- 18 million viewers tuned in to watch Jay Leno's first prime time show, a number the New York Times' Bill Carter described as "almost NFL sized" (a pair of games on the Peacock Network last week reached just over 20 million viewers).

Of course, NBC, which has been playing the low expectations game for weeks now, is not breaking out the press releases declaring Jay the New King of Prime Time. Jeff Gaspin, Chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, said in a statement: "It's great to launch this innovative new show with such strong initial sampling, but we realize this is just one night and that we're going to build our business in this time period with ratings that will level out over time. Our focus is on delivering a great show and developing a consistent comedy viewing habit at 10 p.m. over the long haul." In other words, don't call Jay a failure if his audience eventually dwindles to a quarter of that big number!

Leno also got a nice lead-in from "America's Got Talent," which scored 15 million viewers in its last half hour. The whole Kanye West controversy probably helped, too.

Jay has never been a critical favorite, to put it mildly, and he has never gotten the Emmy love shown to peers like David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. I watched the show, and, well, it was Jay. Either you like him or you don't. The interview with Jerry Seinfeld seemed overly scripted, but in the era of the pre-interview, spontaneity was choked out of talk show banter a long time ago. The Dan Band's silly taped car-wash bit seemed to go on forever. But it was nice to see the Headlines again back in their regular Monday spot, the Kanye West interview provided a water-cooler moment, and there were some good monologue jokes. After all these years, everyone has made up their mind about Leno; those who have missed him over the summer will be glad he's back, and the rest of the viewing public can simply avoid tuning in to NBC at 10 PM.

And now, a sampling of the critical response:

"It's not a good sign when the Bud Light commercial is funnier than the comedy show it interrupts... 'The Jay Leno Show' promises to be better than, say, Rosie O'Donnell's mad flight into variety, but gosh darn it, at least Rosie took some chances. Leno, with the world at his feet, took none at all, unless you count some bawdy word play on the nickname for Richard, which I most emphatically don't." -Los Angeles Times

"To what should be the surprise of no one, Jay Leno's new show looks a whole lot like the old one... All the old trademarks were there." -Variety

"...without Kanye West, and his conveniently timed controversy from the MTV Video Music Awards, NBC's 'Jay Leno Show' premiere Monday would have been even more of a cut-rate, snooze-inducing, rehashed bore. If Leno's desire is to help fans get to sleep earlier, desire satisfied." -USA Today

"10 is not 11:35. Ten has to move faster. It's less forgiving of lulls, or even slowdowns. You can't serve up a few peak moments and cruise in between, because when you do that, it's like an open invitation to your viewers to pick up the dreaded clicker and 'see what else is on'... Last night's show was a good and not-surprising reminder that 1) Leno will always provide some laughs, and 2) almost no one can provide a full hour of laughs." -New York Daily News

"I give Jay's latest effort a firm pat on the back. Keep the scandal-ridden guests on the schedule and make the Dan Band a permanent fixture, and I'll be back for more." -Chicago Sun-Times

Meanwhile, over on the TV superfan site Television Without Pity, reader response was pretty negative: "Well, that was pretty boring..." "it was as pathetic and as bland as I thought it would be..." "There wasn't one good segment..." "while I enjoyed Jay's tenure on The Tonight Show, The Jay Leno Show was not good..." "as someone who actually likes Jay, I was hoping for better than what we got."

David Letterman: Sorry, Bruce Willis, you've been bumped by Obama

The previously scheduled guests on the Sept. 21 episode of "Late Show with David Letterman" were Bruce Willis and LL Cool J. Unfortunately for those two gentlemen, they'll have to wait. Instead, President Obama will be Dave's sole guest on the 21st.

The prez will be promoting his health care agenda on five, count 'em, five Sunday morning talking-head shows the day before his sit-down with Dave, but presumably he hopes to reach quite a different, less policy-wonkish audience on "Late Show."

The President appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" back in March. He's no stranger to "Late Show," however -- this'll be his sixth appearance, albeit his first as president. He last appeared on the program back on Sept. 10, 2008.

For those curious about the competition, Conan's scheduled guests for that night are Ricky Gervais and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Critics to Leno: You suck!

It's only 9 PM here on the West Coast, but in other time zones, the inaugural "Jay Leno Show" has already aired -- and the critics have been all a-Twitter! Thanks to TV MoJoe for compiling some of the insta-reports, including these:

" 'Leno' " is unendurable," wrote Gail Pennington of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Is it over yet? Please?"

TV Guide's Damian Holbrook was equally tough.

"I've seen Discovery Health documentaries that are funnier than 'The Jay Leno Show,'" he tweeted, adding, "This is painful....It's made of suck. Avoid at all costs."

Another TV Guide staffer, columnist Bruce Fretts, summed up his take thusly: "If 'The Jay Leno Show' is the future of TV, I wanna live in the past," he wrote.

Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times asked, "Is it a bad sign that I'm less than 20 minutes into the new Jay Leno show and I already want to poke my eyes out -- or his?"
Talk Show News will be back tomorrow with a round-up of the critical response once the nation's TV scribes have had time to write more than 140 words on the return of Leno.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jay Leno: Will he capitalize on the Kanye West controversy?

When the guests were booked for the first episode of "The Jay Leno Show," no one could have known that one of them, Kanye West, would become the center of a firestorm of controversy a mere 24 hours before the premiere was scheduled to air. Sure, Kanye has a history of pulling dumb, grandiose stunts at award shows -- remember when he stormed out of the American Music Awards when he didn't win the Best New Artist trophy? But when he hijacked the stage after Taylor Swift's Best Female Video win, the booing audience showed him no mercy, and West suddenly became one of the most talked-about (and Twittered-about) men in America.

Kanye is due to perform on "Leno" with Jay-Z, who is promoting his The Blueprint 3 album, and Rihanna. The trio's song "Run This Town" has been a huge hit. However, considering West's well-publicized move, one has to wonder: will Jay try to corral the rapper and interview him about the Swift situation? (It seems inevitable that Leno will at least have a joke or two about the incident in his monologue.) Or will West, who has since apologized for his rude behavior, back out of the appearance, leaving Jay-Z to perform a different song from his album? (Incidentally, Jay-Z's spouse, Beyonce, is the artist whom Kanye loudly proclaimed should have won the award instead of country-pop crooner Swift.)

Whatever happens, a lot of people will undoubtedly be curious enough to tune in -- and Leno's first-night ratings may get a boost as a result.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Craig Ferguson's reruns: Deja vu!

If you turn on the TV at 12:35 AM on Monday, Sept. 14, and find that you are watching the very same episode of "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" that you saw on Monday, Sept. 7, well, you're not dreaming. Next week, CBS will be airing the shows from Sept. 7-11 one more time, in a slightly different order.

Mo 9/14: Juliette Lewis, Alex O'Loughlin (R 9/7/09)
Tu 9/15: Danny DeVito (R 9/9/09)
We 9/16: Audrey Tautou, Ron Livingston (R 9/10/09)
Th 9/17: Drew Carey, Mindy Kaling (R 9/11/09)
Fr 9/18: Neil Patrick Harris (R 9/8/09)

Presumably, the network doesn't want to air any of Craig's pre-HD shows. However, a lot of people are sure to be confused by this rerun strategy. Ferguson will be back on Sept. 21 with all-new broadcasts.

In other Ferguson news:

Variety reported that he is close to a deal that will keep him in the "Late Late" time slot through the 2011-12 season.

Eager to read Craig's new book, American On Purpose? Amazon.com has a free download (PDF) of the first chapter, "A Seat at the Table," in which Craig describes his gig at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, including his encounters with the Bushes and the Cheneys. ("Mrs. Bush was wearing an elegant silky frock, but when she stood with the light behind her you could see her undies. Big, comfortable knickers...") You can also listen to a 15-minute interview with Craig about the book.

Finally, Ferguson is scheduled to appear as a guest on "Late Show with David Letterman" on Sept. 25, and on "The View" on Sept. 22.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coming soon: the triumphant return of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report"

Yes, it's been a long, long, long three weeks without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but the drought ends Monday. Here's a look at what's in store when they finally return from vacation:

"The Daily Show":
Mo 9/14: LeBron James
Tu 9/15: Matt Damon
We 9/16: Ricky Gervais
Th 9/17: TBA

If nothing else, the 6'8" James, who is promoting his autobiography Shooting Stars, will produce an amusing visual contrast next to Stewart, who is a foot shorter than the NBA superstar.

"The Colbert Report":
Mo 9/14: Cory Booker (the mayor of Newark, NJ)
Tu 9/15: Christiane Amanpour
We 9/16: The Flaming Lips
Th 9/17: Frank Bruni

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ellen DeGeneres: Meet your new "American Idol" judge!

No one saw this coming: Ellen DeGeneres is replacing Paula Abdul on "American Idol"!

The new fourth judge called the job a "dream come true," adding, "Think of all the money I'll save from not having to text in my vote."

Ellen has been a guest judge on "So You Think You Can Dance," which might make more sense since she regularly cuts a rug on her on show. But she has no experience in the music business (aside from regularly hosting pop singers on her talk show). She also co-hosted the "Idol Gives Back" special.

FOX's Mike Darnell said in a statement, “We are thrilled to have Ellen DeGeneres join the ... judges’ table this season. She is truly one of America’s funniest people and a fantastic performer who understands what it’s like to stand up in front of audiences and entertain them every day. We feel that her vast entertainment experience – combined with her quick wit and passion for music – will add a fresh, new energy to the show.”

Ellen is not participating in the audition process; she will join the judges' panel in January, when the show launches its ninth season. And fans of her talk show needn't worry -- she's keeping her day job.

Monday, September 7, 2009

David Letterman becomes latest late night host turned cover boy

lettermanIt's a trend! First, we had Stephen Colbert on the cover of the Rolling Stone, and then Jay Leno turned up on the front of Time magazine (as well as Parade). And now, David Letterman's portrait graces the latest issue of New York.

Don't buy it expecting to find an interview with the notoriously press-shy host, though; instead, former New York Observer editor Peter W. Kaplan's cover story is an unabashedly partisan celebration of the Big Apple's hometown boy, taking him from his post-NBC morning show depths to his recent skirmish with Sarah Palin. "David Letterman has become the national Daddy," writes Kaplan. "He is the ideal dad for the age—not a particularly pristine dad, or full of Cronkitean certitude, but confused and serious and full of conflict, anger, and ambiguity... he is a fundamentally serious comedian holding onto the gig of his life—Late Show With David Letterman—the hour in his day that seems to give him purpose. It has never been better."

The mag also features a brief but fun Q&A with Jimmy Fallon and Dick Cavett, and a sidebar suggesting that the real battle for late night will not be fought in the wee hours, but during the day, on YouTube. (Most-viral clip ever: Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman's "I'm F***ing Matt Damon," with over 9 million views.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's "Time" for Jay Leno

lenoTurns out Stephen Colbert's not the only late night host on the cover of a major national magazine this week. Jay Leno is "the Future of Television. Seriously!" according to Time's Sept. 14 issue. The article, by James Poniewozik, says that the major networks, "like the automakers whose commercials once lavishly floated them — must learn to get smaller or else end up like American Buggy Whip Inc."

If the Leno experiment succeeds, "it suggests a TV future in which ambitious dramas become the stuff of boutique cable, while the broadcasters become a megaphone for live events and cheap nonfiction," writes Poniewozik. "'If the Leno Show works,' says former NBC president Fred Silverman, 'it will be the most significant thing to happen in broadcast television in the last decade.'" Big words from the man who greenlit "Supertrain"!

There aren't any real revelations in the combination think piece/interview for people who have been following the story for months now, although I like this tongue-in-cheek quote from Conan O'Brien when asked about Leno's strong first-week lineup: "My plan is to have a van that says 'The Jay Leno Show' pick up his guests and drive them here," said O'Brien. "It could be 15 minutes before Robin Williams realizes what's happening."

The article also reports that NBC "says it's committed to airing The Jay Leno Show five nights a week for at least two years, good ratings or bad," and ends with Poniewozik noting that the show could be "a footnote, or it could make its host bigger than ever." (In his defense, he notes in his blog that the fact that the article wound up on the cover is "proof that the week before Labor Day is the slowest news week of the year.") The web site also includes a behind the scenes video of Leno's Time photo shoot, giving viewers plenty of glimpses of the new set (looks like there are lots of "10"s, in case you forget what time it is while you're watching!).

David Letterman: The night he was heckled by Ringo Starr

No Late Night Ratings post this week, because if you've been following this blog for the past couple of months, you know by now that it doesn't take Carnac the Magnificent to predict what will happen in the ratings battle. Why not head over to NPR.org instead, and read a couple of fascinating excerpts from the new book I'm Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder? It covers the stand-up comedy scene in L.A. during the 1970s, the time when both Leno & Letterman were up-and-comers, and looks like a must-read for late night TV fans. There's a hilarious story about ex-Beatle Ringo Starr heckling Letterman:

Letterman had a reputation for eviscerating hecklers, and as word spread along the back hallway, other comics started filing into the room to watch the impending bloodshed... In the spotlight, Letterman couldn't see who the heckler was, so he showed no mercy, and Starr was too drunk to appreciate how badly Letterman was beating him up. Finally, one of the comics took pity and called out, "Hey Dave, it's Ringo."

"Oh, that makes sense," Letterman shot back in the direction of Starr. "You ruined your career, and now you've come here to ruin mine."
The web page also features a firsthand account of George Miller's funeral -- "Late Show" fans know Miller as one of Letterman's most frequent guests over the years. Dave had a case of the shingles and couldn't attend, but Leno was there, and, as Knoedelseder notes, "The tension of having them both in the same room might have proved a major distraction."

In Miller's last years, Letterman had "paid for all of George's medical expenses during the last few years of his life and had even picked up the cost of a two-bedroom apartment and a twenty-four-hour on-call nurse. When it appeared that George was dying in 2000, Dave got him admitted to an experimental leukemia treatment program at UCLA by donating nearly $1 million to the medical center." Very generous -- unfortunately, Miller was such a prodigious drug addict that "he'd get so high that he'd forget to take his life-preserving medicine," and an intervention featuring Letterman and several other Miller pals was unsuccessful:
"George, you have to get straight," Letterman told him. "You have to get well or else."

"What does that mean?" Miller shot back nastily. "That you're not going to put me on your show anymore?"

For Letterman it was like a sucker punch to the gut. He left hurt and angry, and he and Miller didn't talk to each other for weeks afterwards -- the only time in their long friendship that had ever happened.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Colbert vs. Stewart: NASA tries its hand at "fake news"

Those kidders at NASA are trying to prove that they're it-getters by issuing a special "(Fake News) Press Release," which claims that "Jon Stewart is apparently miffed about ISS exercise hardware being named after fellow Comedy Central commentator Steven Colbert." According to NASA, Stewart was so irate about Colbert's namesake space treadmill that he "complained to the space agency that he deserved the same treatment. In response, NASA offered to name the ISS Urine Processor after Stewart, Space Toilet Environmental Waste Accumulator/Recycling Thingy. Upon hearing this, Stewart declined the offer."

Stephen Colbert on the new Rolling Stone cover

colbertHere's just the thing for "Colbert Report" fans who are counting the days until the program's long summer break finally ends (Sept. 14, for the record). Rolling Stone's new issue (dated Sept. 17) will feature Stephen Colbert on the cover -- dressed as a homeless guy. A tip of the hat (never a wag of the finger) to obsessive Colbert fan site No Fact Zone for the news.

The magazine's web site has some outtakes from Colbert's interview with writer Neil Strauss, who is no stranger to the world of late night TV host profiles; he interviewed Jay Leno for Rolling Stone earlier this year. One interesting tidbit: Colbert doesn't read any of the books that his guests are plugging. "I read the first chapter of the first book of the first guest I ever had on, which was Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August or something like that," he said. "And it's the last thing I've read... I don't have time."

Another special web site feature, "Before the Report," features a variety of YouTube clips of Stephen's appearances on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and other shows.

David Letterman: Bringing home the big bucks

Oprah and Dr. Phil may have topped Forbes' list of the 10 top-earning talk show hosts, but David Letterman is King of Late Night -- when it comes to making money, at least.

The "Late Show" host rakes in $45 million a year, according to the business mag. Part of that big money comes from the fact that his Worldwide Pants owns his program, along with "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."

Number four, Ellen DeGeneres ($35 million), gets a boost from her appearances in ads for American Express and CoverGirl. Jay Leno's yearly take is estimated at $32 million -- that would buy a lot of classic cars, if Leno actually spent any of his TV earnings (Jay has famously declared that he lives off the proceeds of his stand-up earnings: "I've never touched a dime of my TV money, ever"). Then we have Tyra Banks, Regis Philbin, and a tie between Rachael Ray and Conan O'Brien (though Conan will probably move up on the list next year now that he's helming "Tonight" -- Forbes' pay period only covers his tenure at 12:30 AM).

Coming in at number 10 is Jon Stewart. The basic cable host is making a lot of bucks from the success of his Busboy Productions, which produces two other shows for Comedy Central, "The Colbert Report" and "Important Things with Demetri Martin."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Craig Ferguson: Behind the scenes of his new opening

Here's a fun video featuring some behind the scenes footage of Craig Ferguson's new, extra-fancy high definition opening sequence:

Last night was Ferguson's first "Late Late Show" in high def. Now the major programs remaining are "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," which are reportedly scheduled to debut in HD early in 2010, and "Last Call with Carson Daly," for which no date has been announced.