Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stephen Colbert wins a Best Comedy Album Grammy

Stephen Colbert beat a fellow late night talk show host (George Lopez) as well as Spinal Tap, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Patton Oswalt and Kathy Griffin to take home the Grammy for Best Comedy Album. Perhaps it's a sign of the times, but A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All has never been released on CD. The TV special which spawned the songs (which were written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger) is available on DVD, and the music can be purchased on iTunes.

"Thank you very much," said Colbert upon winning the trophy. "This is a Christmas album, so obviously I should thank Jesus Christ for having such a great birthday." After a long list of thank yous, Stephen, who was accompanied to the awards ceremony by his 14-year-old daughter Madeline, said, "I want to ask my daughter, 'Am I cool now?'"

Earlier in the evening, Colbert, when presenting the Song of the Year award, pulled out an iPad and asked Jay-Z, who was sitting in the audience, "Did you not get one of these in your gift bag? Am I cooler than you?" Then he asked Madeline if it made him look cool. She responded with a pained shrug.

At least twice last week on his show, Colbert made a plea for an iPad. Sounds like the folks at Apple were listening -- and in return, they got some killer product placement.

Watch Stephen's opening segment below:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

George Lopez loves a cigar

dog photoRegular readers know that Talk Show News tries to feature any new appearances by late night TV stars on magazine covers. Is Cigar Aficionado more or less prestigious than the Costco Connection? In any case, George Lopez apparently enjoys a good stogie, and is featured in the February issue of "The Good Life Magazine For Men." "We speak with Lopez about his love of cigars while he reflects on his 30 years in comedy, from the difficulty of writing and then performing your own material to his early days of success when he was appearing on 'The Tonight Show.'"

I watch Leno on Oprah so you don't have to

Dear Oprah, please use some of your billions to hire a proofreader. Thanks!

"Oprah" airs in Chicago nine hours earlier than it does here in Northern California, so a lot has already been written about Jay Leno's sit-down with the Queen of Daytime TV. So consider this an outline for those of you who have followed the Talk Show Wars saga obsessively -- did anything new or surprising come out of the broadcast? Here are a few of the highlights (credit to The Wrap for the transcript):

When NBC execs told Leno that Conan would be taking over "Tonight" in 2009, it "broke [his] heart." The normally reticent Leno has never spoken so frankly about, well, his feelings. Unlike a Corvette Z06, if you prick Jay Leno, does he not bleed? So he told "a white lie on the air. I said I’m going to retire. It just made it easier that way."

Why didn't Jay just go to another network instead of agreeing to NBC's 10 PM experiment? Switching networks is "a lot of work. I mean, you don't know where you're going, you don't know who you're dealing with. I’ve been at [NBC] since 1984 in one form or another. I know the lighting guys, I know what lighting guys I want, I know the makeup -- I just know -- I’m comfortable here. I’m not someone who jumps around."

Of course, Leno repeated his talking point about how he had to keep working for the sake of his 175 employees. Oprah challenged him on the thousands of people who were left jobless by the removal of scripted programming at 10 PM. " I’ve got to admit, that was not something I even realized until we went on the air," said Leno. "But they're not wrong. I have to admit, that one did catch me. We were on the air when I realized, wow, I have to admit, that one I didn't know about that."

Why didn't Jay pick up the phone and call Conan when NBC floated the idea of moving him back to 11:35, while shifting "Tonight" to 12:05? "It wasn't my place to call Conan," responded Jay.

Oprah: "Conan said [in his "People of Earth" letter] he thought it would be destructive to the franchise and that if he took that spot..."

Jay: "Well, if you look at what the ratings were, it was already destructive to the franchise."

How did Jay feel about Jimmy Kimmel's amazing appearance on his own show's "10 @ 10"? "I got sucker punched," said Leno. "It's my show. I could have edited it. But I said, no, no, put it out there. I walked into it... But, you know, when you get sucker punched, you just get right back up again."

Oprah told Jay she thought his joke about David Letterman's marital problems was "beneath you." "But how many jokes like that have I done?" asked Jay. "One. I did one joke in the middle of the week and I never did another one, because I said, there, I had a cheap shot thrown at me, I threw one cheap shot back and I moved on."

Oprah really pressed Jay on why he didn't just walk away from NBC after they'd "fired" (in his words) him twice. I have to admit, the interview was a bit tougher than I expected. After you dig through all the stuff about those brave, heroic and hard-working 175 employees who needed jobs, and NBC's assertion that they had done focus groups showing that the 10 o'clock show would be a big success, you arrive at what I consider the truth about why Leno is going back to "Tonight," and why he never wanted to leave:

"Every day coming to work here was paradise," he said of his years on "Tonight." It's a wonderful staff, great people to work with, it was a lot of fun, and the days just rolled by... It was just the most wonderful experience of my life."

Jay never wanted to give up "Tonight," and he's going back because he loved being the host of "Tonight." Period.

Oh, and Jay doesn't think Oprah will follow through on her plans to step away from her long-running talk show. "You know, if you're a gunfighter, you like to die in the street... You and I will hold hands and walk out into the sunset together. You're not going anywhere, I'm not going anywhere."

In other words, Jimmy Fallon, if your dream, like Jay and Conan, is to one day host "Tonight," you'd better bide your time, because Leno's not leaving. Ever.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Jay Leno Show"'s last day: Feb. 9

Entertainment Weekly reports that "The Jay Leno Show" will be leaving the airwaves sooner than anticipated. The program was expected to be canceled just before the Olympics, but instead its final airing will come on Tuesday, Feb. 9. A repeat episode of "Law & Order: SVU" will be shown in the 10 PM slot on Wednesday, Feb. 10, followed by two back-to-back repeat episodes of "The Office" on Feb. 11.

Considering that "Leno" will be preempted tomorrow night because of State of the Union coverage, that means there will only be ten more episodes, including tonight's (with guest Mel Gibson). On Thursday, Jay's "10 at 10" guest will be Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown. Hopefully, Brown will refrain from mentioning again that his daughters are available.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jay Leno: Will he be #1 again?

On March 1, Jay Leno will return to "Tonight." By then, all of the excitement generated by the latest battles in the late night wars will have faded, and America will presumably be talking about its new Olympic heroes, not whether or not Conan got screwed by NBC. But will Leno be able to resume his spot as the #1 host in late night?

Ken Tucker of says yes. "[I]f you think the vast majority of Americans who have long watched The Tonight Show truly believes Jay is 'tarnished' or 'the bad guy,' as so many pundits have written, you’re deluded," writes Tucker. "Middle America still loves Jay, and the backlash to the backlash will be that Leno emerges just the way he’s been positioning himself: As the loyal underdog who’s now coming to rescue NBC’s late-night ratings." And, of course, Leno will be fired up by his desire to beat longtime rival David Letterman: "Think Dave as Batman [brooding, wily, powerful] and Jay as The Joker [giggly, wily, powerful]."

Tucker adds that the celebs who pledged their loyalty to Coco during his final week on NBC will not be boycotting Jay's "Tonight" once they have product to push. "[I]f you think Robin Williams or Tom Hanks or any other final-week Conan supporter is going to turn down Jay, you’re crazy."

Team Conan loyalists may at least get some solace from the "Jay Bombs" web site, which strips the audience laughter from Leno's monologue jokes -- sort of the talk show equivalent of "Garfield Minus Garfield."

Anyone interested in the changing late night landscape should check out this Los Angeles Times article about the shrinking profit margins of the time slot, once a cash cow for the networks. An ad on the relaunched "Tonight Show" will only cost advertisers $35,000, as opposed to the $50K NBC could charge a few years ago. Among the reasons? The audience is fragmenting, watching programs like "Adult Swim" and "The Daily Show"/"Colbert Report" instead of sticking with network fare; many people are choosing to watch clips online the next day; and the popularity of DVRs mean viewers can play back prime time dramas in the wee hours of the morning instead of choosing between Ferguson and Fallon.

Late night shows are expensive -- the hosts pull down huge sums (more than $30 million annually for Letterman and Leno, $8-10 million for Kimmel), music rights can cost thousands of dollars per episode, and the programs have large staffs. Considering that the late night pie is being carved into smaller and smaller pieces, it seems likely that wherever Conan ends up, he'll be paid less, and have fewer resources at his disposal than he did at NBC.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Coco's Last Stand

By now, everybody has weighed in on Conan O'Brien's final "Tonight Show" -- it was "heartfelt," "classy," "gracious." (It was also a huge ratings success.) I suspect that even people who don't normally watch Conan now realize that they'll miss him.

Something else that the whole world is weighing in on -- what should O'Brien do next? I thought about that during a scene in the latest episode of ABC's sitcom "Modern Family," in which teenager Haley had to learn how to use her dad Phil's incredibly complicated universal remote control in order to prove to her mom that it could be mastered by a non-techie. Haley said something along the lines of, "Why should I have to learn to use it? I watch TV on my computer!"

For all the whining about how if only Team Coco had actually tuned in to watch "Tonight," he would still be on the air, I would be willing to bet that millions of his fans preferred watching chunks of the show online to sitting in front of the TV at 11:35 each night (or even TiVo'ing it). Witness the speed in which the best bits of this week's shows, like the "$1.5 million" Bugatti Veyron Mouse, sped around the Internet. (NBC may have pulled the clip to avoid having to pay big fees to the Rolling Stones, but plenty of fans made it available anyway.)

For an old-school TV viewer like me, that sort of takes the fun out of it -- I mean, I was watching more-or-less live when Conan unveiled the auto, and it gave me my biggest laugh of the week. A lot of humor is about the element of surprise, and it wouldn't be as funny to me if I had clicked on a link after someone told me, "You've got to see Conan's crazy expensive new character, the Bugatti Veyron Mouse!"

But this is how a lot of people, especially the coveted® young demographic, watches these days, and I hope that wherever O'Brien winds up, be it FOX or a cable channel, recognizes that reality, and finds a way to profit from it.

I was a David Letterman diehard when O'Brien took over "Late Night," and like a lot of viewers in those early days, I found him too nervous and twitchy. I did, however, tune in from time to time, and even went to a taping of one of his earliest shows, back when you could get in simply by showing up at 30 Rock and asking a page for a couple tickets. I remember that Conan came out before the show began and sang a spirited Elvis Presley number, swiveling his hips and running up the steps into the audience. He was obviously someone who was seizing this opportunity and giving it his all, even if it took a long time for NBC to realize they had hired the right guy.

The last Conan taping I attended was during his week in San Francisco, by which time he had become a superstar who had to wait several minutes for the applause to die down before he could begin his monologue. He could have filled the enormous Orpheum Theater, currently home to a production of the musical "Wicked," many times over with all his local fans. How much fun would it be if Conan's new venture takes him to other cities a couple times a year? Surely the same fans who rallied for Coco would be rabid enough to fill big venues in Seattle or Chicago or Dallas or Milwaukee -- or even internationally (his show from Finland was one of his most memorable).

I hope Conan sees this as an opportunity to break free from the conventional monologue/comedy bit/guest format that "Tonight," with all of its history, rigorously imposed on him. Keep reaching out to fans, find a way to capitalize on your Internet success, and last night's show will represent a new beginning, not the end.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jay Leno to sit down with Oprah

Jay Leno is beginning his rehabilitation tour. His image has taken a beating during the latest Late Night War, and he's turning to the Queen of Daytime TV -- Oprah Winfrey -- to get his message out.

Winfrey announced on her show today that she is flying to L.A. to interview Leno, according to the Associated Press. The program will air next Thursday.

In other Leno news, the comic has been tapped to headline the White House Correspondents' Dinner in May -- the same venue where Stephen Colbert and Wanda Sykes have made headlines in recent years for their controversial routines.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jay Leno at 10 PM: TV's biggest-ever bomb?

leno coverFirst David Letterman was Photoshopped by Entertainment Weekly with his pants down, and now Jay Leno is named "TV's biggest bomb ever." In the Jan. 29 issue, EW runs a list of 50 "flops, blunders and really bad decisions," including the XFL, "Joanie Loves Chachi," "Felicity" star Keri Russell cutting her hair, and "Pink Lady and Jeff."

"Terrible late-night talk shows" come in at #11: "the two biggest flameouts have to be Chevy Chase and Magic Johnson," with the mag's Dalton Ross naming Chase's short-lived program the slightly bigger fiasco: "Chevy was considered a genius of late-night TV from his days on SNL, making his bomb all the more deadly." Of course, Chase's program aired on FOX... where Conan O'Brien may well end up later this year.

NBC's Gaspin: Leno's new "Tonight" will be a "hybrid"

So Jay Leno will be back on "The Tonight Show" starting March 1. What will the new show be like? Presumably his most popular bits, Headlines and Jaywalking, will move back into the time slot, but what about the Green Car Challenge and the desk-less set? (It seems a pretty safe bet that 10@10 will be retired, since, duh, he'll be on at 11:30.)

NBC entertainment chair Jeff Gaspin told the Hollywood Reporter that Leno's "Tonight" 2.0 will most likely be "a hybrid. They're going to make some alterations to the studio to make it more intimate. There's elements of the current show they like, and there's elements from 'The Tonight Show' they'd like to bring back. I would be surprised if they didn't bring back the desk and a couch, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a new desk and couch."

Gaspin doesn't rue the fact that Conan's profile, and his ratings, have been sky-high lately. "I would look at David Letterman's ratings currently," he said. "He had a huge pop during his scandal. If you look at his ratings now, they're below where they were before his scandal." Leno's "fan base is very strong and they will welcome him back."

Conan O'Brien leaving NBC; they're keeping the Masturbating Bear

It looks like NBC is getting custody of the Masturbating Bear.

The popular "Late Night" character made its first appearance on "The Tonight Show" last night -- and since NBC will retain the rights to Conan's comedy bits, according to TheWrap, it might have been the bear's last stand.

Jay Leno will return to "Tonight" on Monday, March 1. In the meantime, NBC will fill the gap with Conan reruns and Olympics coverage.

According to the agreement, O'Brien will have to keep mum for a while -- no interviews or talk show appearances. Conan will be free to begin work for another network on Sept. 1, an insider told TheWrap.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Conan's final guests: Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell

Here's the guest list for the final four days of "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien":

Tu 1/19: Quentin Tarantino, Paul Bettany, Spoon
We 1/20: Adam Sandler, Joel McHale, Joss Stone
Th 1/21: Robin Williams, Barry Manilow
Fr 1/22: Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell

Ferrell, of course, was the first guest on Conan's "Tonight," back in May. He was also the guest on the final episode of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

Still no word on what will be on next week in that time slot.

And don't miss this hilarious Taiwanese video explaining the late night mess. Conan as The Hulk!

David Letterman Extortion Update: Judge refuses to dismiss case

With all of the hype about Jay & Conan, it seems that David Letterman's extortion case has been all but forgotten, which Dave is probably fine with. However, it did pop up in the news again today, as Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon (great name for a judge!) ruled against Robert "Joe" Halderman's bid to get his attempted grand larceny case dismissed, according to the Associated Press.

"Whether Halderman's conduct was blackmail or business 'is a classic example of an issue that is best left for a trial jury to decide,' Solomon wrote," says the AP story. "The 52-year-old Halderman, a producer for CBS' '48 Hours Mystery,' could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He and his lawyer declined to comment outside court. His next court date is March 9."

Halderman, of course, claimed that he was simply trying to sell Dave a "screenplay" about a randy talk show host who sleeps with his staffers -- it was in no way blackmail or extortion. Now a jury will have to make that determination.

The saga was dramatized on a ripped-from-the-headlines "Law & Order" last week, starring Samantha Bee of "The Daily Show" as the host of a "View"-like program who has been having affairs with staffers. The "L&O" twist -- Sam's character was having same-sex liaisons! Oh, and there was a murder. So far, at least, the Halderman/Letterman imbroglio has been casualty-free.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jay Leno tells his side of the story

According to a transcript released by NBC, Jay Leno is going to spill his side of the late night "wars" on his show tonight.

He starts at the beginning, when "an NBC executive" came into his office to tell him he would be kicked off his show in five years' time: "Conan O’Brien has gotten offers from other networks. We don’t want him to go, so we’re going to give him ‘The Tonight Show.’" Leno protests, citing his high ratings, but is informed the decision is final.

2009 comes around, and "I’m leaving before my contract is out. About six to eight months early. So before I could go anywhere else, I would be at least a year or 18 months before I could go and do a show somewhere else. I said to NBC, ‘would you release me from my contract.’ They said, ‘we want to keep you here.’ Okay. What are your ideas? They said, ‘how about primetime?’ I said, ‘that will never work.’"

Very prescient, Jay. However, NBC says the 10 PM show is a great idea -- "We have done focus groups" -- so Leno, ever the company man, agrees, especially since he's assured that he can keep his "Tonight Show" staff. After "The Jay Leno Show" bombs, the NBC suits come back to offer him the 11:35 PM, half-hour time slot. "'You think Conan will go for that?' 'Yes, yes,'" they assure him.

"Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that. They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, ‘yeah, I’ll take the show back. If that’s what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.’ So that’s pretty much where we are." (In other words, "I'm not doing it for me! I'm doing it for 'Leno Show' co-producer Tracie Fiss and technical director Michael Stramisky!")

Considering that Jay is taking a shellacking in the press, and especially on the internet, where disgruntled Conan fans are organizing rallies and creating artwork, it seems like Jay had no choice but to address the issue. However, it remains to be seen if people will buy his explanation. The fact that he is partially blaming O'Brien ("Conan is not doing well at 11:30") for the situation may be tough to swallow, since Leno famously struggled in the ratings for almost two years before overtaking Letterman, and the affiliates' wrath was aimed at the lead-in to the late local news, not the program that followed it. Despite his multimillions, Conan almost seems to be getting a reputation as the embodiment of the working stiff who's been wronged by his bosses, something that feels very zeitgeisty in this era of layoffs and anger at the corporate bigwigs who made bad decisions and made us pay the price.

Detroit Free Press columnist Julie Hinds is not alone when she declares Leno a "loser" in this battle, stating that he "now has the dubious distinction of being seen as a two-time spoiler -- first for beating out Letterman for the 'Tonight' seat in 1992 and now for pushing out O'Brien." It remains to be seen whether or not Leno can return to his 11:35 ratings supremacy, but one thing's for certain -- Leno will at least be out there, night after night, starting immediately after the Olympics, while even if FOX comes calling the moment the ink is dry on Conan's settlement, he won't be back on the air until fall at the earliest. And since it's been widely reported that O'Brien will have to agree to a gag order in order to get a payout from NBC, it seems clear that Team Coco will have to wait a long time before they hear anything new from their man.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Saturday Night Live" saves sharpest barbs for Letterman

Since "Saturday Night Live" airs on NBC, where the execs have been loudly complaining about all of the potshots taken at Jay Leno by other late night hosts, the big question about last night's episode was, how would the sketch show address the late night conflict? "SNL" brought back former rep player Darrell Hammond to portray Jay Leno, and his impression was pretty dead-on. The usually reliable Bill Hader's Conan was curiously blank -- maybe O'Brien is just tough to imitate, especially when he's sitting behind a desk (in a different setting, at least Hader could have trotted out the string dance and nipple-rubbing). But the nastiest impression was Jason Sudeikis as an incoherently giggling, pencil-throwing David Letterman.

Of course, former "SNL"'er Norm Macdonald's Dave impression is hard to beat. "Ya' got any gum?"

Seth Meyers also had a funny take on "Weekend Update," comparing NBC to a man torn between two lovers who comes up with an "awesome plan": "Let's say you're married, and it's the #1 marriage in the country. But then you meet someone else who just sweeps you off your feet. Then you say to her: 'I want to marry you in five years.'" It doesn't seem to be up on Hulu yet, but The Wrap posted a video.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NBC settlement: If Conan trashes the network, he'll pay

It seems like the suits at NBC really were upset by all of those barbs slung at their network by Conan O'Brien. According to TMZ, the "Tonight" host's severance package calls for him to keep mum about his former employers. "Sources tell us NBC wants a liquidated damages clause if Conan says anything disparaging about the network once he leaves. Essentially that means there is a clause in the contract that says Conan will automatically pay a predetermined amount of money if he says bad things about NBC."

TMZ also reports that "NBC will be paying Conan a hefty sum, but that will be offset by any amount Conan makes for his next hosting gig. So if Conan makes a deal with FOX, NBC can reduce the amount it pays Conan by the amount FOX forks over." (This has led some wags to suggest that FOX should pay Conan a dollar so NBC will have to continue to pay him big bucks, but it's unlikely it'll play out that way.)

I was looking back at the transcript of a conference call Leno did before beginning his 10 o'clock show, trying to find this quote: "You know, I don't have an agent, I don't have a manager. I'm not one of those guys. It's a handshake. Okay guys, you know, just - why don't you keep paying me what you paid me and we'll see what happens. Okay great. Thank you. I mean real simple. I mean that's what it is. I'm not - I don't want to own the show. I don't want to be, you know, I never wanted to be a landlord, have rental properties. I like writing jokes, going to work and telling my jokes. I don't want to be involved in any other part of it."

Very disingenous, Jay. He may not have an agent and a manager, but you can be darn sure that he has a lawyer, and a very aggressive one. Sources say that Leno's contract called for an $80 million penalty if "The Jay Leno Show" was canceled... which makes Conan's $40 million payout look downright thrifty. And if FOX snaps him up, NBC will save even more.

NBC execs to other late night hosts: Quit making fun of Jay!

NBC executives are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, has had enough of David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien picking on Jay Leno. "There's a certain amount of kidding that goes on between these personalities which can often be funny," said Gaspin. "But this has definitely crossed the line. Jay is the consummate professional and one of the hardest-working people in television. It's a shame that he's being pulled into this."

Earlier, NBC Sports' Dick Ebersol took aim at Dave and Conan, saying it was "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings."

Now the question is, will there be an anti-Jay backlash once he returns to "The Tonight Show" after the Olympics? Former WNBC reporter Doug Spero, now an associate professor of mass communication at Meredith College in North Carolina, predicted Jay will come out on top again. "This is going to solidify him at 'Tonight Show' for as long as he wants," Spero said.

Bill Zehme, who co-authored Leno's autobiography Leading With My Chin, doesn't necessarily agree. "Jay's not the bad guy -- the bad guy is NBC, really. However, Jay has all the power now," Zehme told the L.A. Times. "The thing Leno should do is walk, period. He's got everything to lose in terms of public popularity by going back. People will look at him differently. He'll be viewed as the bad guy."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Howard Stern to Conan in 2006: "I don't see this guy leaving"

A commenter on Gawker linked to this eerily prescient video from the Dec. 14, 2006 episode of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," featuring guest Howard Stern.

Howard: I read in the paper that Conan is going to replace Jay Leno, thank God. You think that's really gonna happen? Jay--

Conan: I think there's about a 40% chance that's going to happen.

Howard: Jay Leno's a funny guy. I read the book Late Shift where they talk about all the different late night hosts and it said that Jay wanted that job so bad he would hide in closets and listen in to the NBC executives talking about his fate. He wanted the job from Letterman. I don't see this guy leaving and letting you walk in. And I'm concerned about you.

Conan: You're concerned? What about me? You know what? I'm very philosophical about it. First of all it's many years off. It's still 11 years away. Jay will be like in his late 80s, I'll be like 75 when this thing goes down.

Howard: This is a guy who stares at the wall all day, Jay Leno. He waits to go to work. He doesn't like to do anything but work. I don't even know if has sex with his wife. I don't know what's going on there. (Audience: "Ooh.") This is going to be very -- what do you mean, "oh"? This is comedy fact. Everybody knows it.

Speaking of Stern, according to a recap at Howard fansite, Conan wants him to do "Tonight" next week, but Stern isn't sure if he wants to fly to L.A. Plus, would the suits at NBC let him on the air? One thing's for sure, if it actually happens, it would be real must-see TV.

Source: Conan getting $30 mil to leave NBC

Sharon Waxman of The Wrap is reporting that after "all-night negotiations" brokered by by Universal COO Ron Meyer, Conan O'Brien has agreed to leave NBC -- with a $30 million payday.

"NBC also wants a non-compete period in which Conan can't work for anyone else, period. Right now, the parties are looking at a time as early as September or as late as next January for O'Brien to be free," according to another article on The Wrap.

No word yet on the fate of the loyal staffers who followed O'Brien to California, but it is hoped that there will be a nice severance payment for them.

I thought I would be getting some inside dish on the matter this weekend, as Conan was scheduled to make an appearance at San Francisco Sketchfest on Sunday. The "Tribute to Conan O'Brien" had been announced months earlier, and since I hadn't heard anything from Sketchfest saying it was canceled, I figured it was on, and couldn't wait to go. Sadly, an email was sent to ticketholders today stating that "Due to the uncertainty surrounding the future of The Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien will have to postpone his appearance. Ticketholders are advised to keep their tickets and will be notified when the event has been rescheduled."

Who knows... maybe when Conan does finally make it up here, San Francisco will be the first to hear the details of his new show.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

David Letterman sketch compares Jay to Indian-killers

Have the late night wars gone too far?

Tonight's "Late Show with David Letterman" will air a brief video comparing Jay Leno to the early settlers who killed the indigenous Indians -- something that many historians believe was an act of genocide. What's next, someone trying to tie Jay Leno to Hitler? That hasn't happened yet, as far as I know (this "Downfall" parody shows Adolf to be a member of Team Conan).

Here's the narration: Jay Leno is middle America. He represents traditional American values, the things this country was built on, like killing Indians because you want their land. America's standing up for Jay.

Too mean?

NBC getting tough with Conan

Entertainment blogger Nikki Finke is reporting that NBC is taking "a super tough threatening position" over Conan O'Brien's refusal to host "The Tonight Show" at midnight. According to an O'Brien rep, NBC's Jeff Zucker "is threatening to ice Conan," threatening, "'I'll keep you off the air for 3 1/2 years.' Which doesn't have a chance in hell of happening. What I really think Zucker wants is to hold him off the market for at least six months to a year until the dust settles and Leno is secure and Conan is squelched."

As for Conan's statement to the "People of Earth," scuttlebutt is that Conan's people "were not thrilled. They told him it would undercut his negotiating leverage," one source told Finke. "But Conan wouldn't listen to them. He wanted to make it."

ESPN's Bill Simmons, a former "Jimmy Kimmel Live" writer, recently tweeted that "Next week is Conan's final week hosting the Tonight Show. His staff is trying to book big guests so he goes out with a bang. It's true."

Meanwhile, Conan's war with NBC has been good for ratings -- he easily beat Letterman last night in the top 25 markets.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jimmy Kimmel as Jay Leno: Brilliant!

Tonight's episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live," featuring the host doing a Jay Leno impression, was absolutely hilarious -- presuming, of course, that you've seen enough Leno monologues to be familiar with his tropes. From the constant musical stings to the asides directed at bandleader Cleto/Kevin (wearing a baseball cap, natch) to the "Did you hear about this?" before almost every joke, it sounds like Jimmy and his writers had a lot of fun putting this one together. Here's a sample, but it's worth watching the whole thing (check out the JKL YouTube channel).

Jimmy even did some "headlines" after the commercial. My only disappointment: that he didn't ask his bandleader, "Cleto, what do I love?" The response to that, of course: "Stupid criminals!"

Many viewers may not realize it, but this was not Jimmy's first time donning Jay's prosthetic chin -- he portrayed Leno during the E! Channel's reenactments of the Michael Jackson trial back in 2005.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

David Letterman to poke fun at Jay Leno again tonight: a preview

Check it out on YouTube:

Dave: "Jay 'Big Jaw' Leno was moved to 10 PM... that way they didn't have to spend a lot of money on valuable prime time shows. Now that he's moved back to 11:30, NBC has got to scramble and find shows to fill that 10 PM slot. Look what they've come up with so far... I think you're going to like this one."

Conan O'Brien: Will he be replaced by guest hosts?

TVMoJoe just Twittered that NBC may be looking for guest hosts for "The Tonight Show," though earlier reports indicated that Conan will indeed be taping a new episode to be broadcast tonight. Perhaps if Conan "goes rogue" and continues to burn his bridges with the network, NBC will yank him off rather than endure another month of O'Brien barbs before the Olympics begin airing.

In any event, the ratings for tonight's show should be sensational. The scheduled guests, not that anyone will be tuning in to see them, are Tom Brokaw, Zachary Levi and Rosanne Cash.

Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that there is nothing in Conan's contract that prevents NBC from moving "Tonight" to 12:05. "Talks between O'Brien and NBC are ongoing, with the two sides debating whether the network is voiding his contract by moving the show," wrote Company Town blogger Joe Flint. "Unfortunately for O'Brien, during negotiations for his original deal to host 'The Tonight Show' his management apparently forgot to get it in writing that the show's time slot would always start at 11:35 p.m."

Not surprisingly, the Internet has spoken and they're on Team Conan. According to the New York Times, "Twitter’s search engine shows thousands of results for the hash tag #teamconan, from users taking Mr. O’Brien’s side in the public standoff. The opposing hashtag #teamjay has had only a handful of mentions."

Conan O'Brien to NBC: Drop dead

Breaking: Conan O'Brien won't do "The Tonight Show" at 12:05. Here's his statement, which was posted on the New York Times' web site:

People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.



David Letterman does his Leno imitation, tells how to fix "Tonight"

Pretty much all of the late night hosts, from Conan to Colbert, have now weighed in on the Leno/O'Brien imbroglio, and most of the relevant clips have been assembled at Be sure to watch David Letterman's squeaky-voiced Leno impression ("Mavis, bring me some Quaker State") and suggestion for fixing "Tonight" (let Jay and Conan share the hour).

As for Conan, he came up with a long list of future options in his monologue, including "Leave television altogether, and work in a classier business with better people, like hardcore porn."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chelsea Handler: New book, tour coming in March

photoChelsea Handler's new book of humorous essays, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, will be published in March -- and Chelsea is hitting the road to promote it.

Handler's tour, sponsored by Belvedere Vodka (there's an appropriate match!), kicks off March 10 at Chicago's Rosemont Theater and will take the "Chelsea Lately" host to 21 cities, including Phoenix, San Francisco, Denver, and Boston. Tickets will go on sale beginning this Friday.

The book will also be available in an unabridged audio version, narrated by Handler herself.

No reviews yet, but here are a few excerpts provided by the publisher:

Being unpopular: "My parents couldn't have been more unreasonable when it came to fads or clothes that weren't purchased at a pharmacy."

Living with her boyfriend: "He's similar to a large toddler, the only difference being he doesn't cry when he wakes up."

Appreciating her brother: "He's a certified public accountant, and I have a real life."

Arm-wrestling a maid of honor: "It wasn't her strength that intimidated me. It was the starry way her eyes focused on me, like Mike Tyson getting ready to feed."

10-Mar-10 Chicago, IL Rosemont Theatre
11-Mar-10 Phoenix, AZ Dodge Theatre
12-Mar-10 San Fran, CA Nob Hill Masonic Center
13-Mar-10 Denver, CO Wells Fargo Theatre
19-Mar-10 Portland, OR Keller Aud
20-Mar-10 Seattle, WA Paramount Theatre
26-Mar-10 Miami, FL The Fillmore
27-Mar-10 Washington, DC DAR
28-Mar-10 Atlanta, GA Fox Theatre
2-Apr-10 Detroit, MI Fox Theatre
3-Apr-10 Minneapolis, MN Northrop Aud
9-Apr-10 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun
10-Apr-10 Boston, MA Citi Wang Center
11-Apr-10 Chicago, IL Rosemont Theatre
16-Apr-10 Austin, TX Bass Concert Hall
17-Apr-10 Philly, PA Tower Theatre
23-Apr-10 Houston, TX Verizon Wireless Theater
24-Apr-10 Dallas, TX Nokia
30-Apr-10 Los Angeles, CA Gibson Amphitheatre
1-May-10 Reno, NV Reno Events Center
7-May-10 Kansas City, KS Starlight Theatre
8-May-10 San Diego, CA SD Civic Theater
15-May-10 New York, NY Radio City Music
16-May-10 New York, NY Radio City Music

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jay Leno: Last 10 PM show to air Feb. 12

Breathlessly following the twitters coming from the winter Television Critics Association press tour, which is having its most-awaited session -- the one with NBC execs -- right now. New Jersey Star-Ledger critic Alan Sepinwall just revealed that NBC honcho Jeff Gaspin said that the last 10 PM episode of "The Jay Leno Show" will air on Feb. 12, right before the Olympics begin. (I'm guessing the program won't end with an appearance by all of the staffers' babies born during the show's run, as Leno's "Tonight" did.)

While Leno show "performed to our expectations, it did not meet our affiliates' needs," said Gaspin, as quoted by Sepinwall. "He has proposed Leno Show at 11:35, Conan's Tonight at 12:05, Late Night w/Fallon at 1:05, but 'talks are still ongoing.'"

Daniel Fienberg, who is live-blogging the NBC session, adds that "
Gaspin says that he hopes the late night situation will be clarified by the start of the Olympics."

"Look, I would have liked nothing more than to give this a 52-week try," Gaspin told the critics. The issue was not with NBC, but with its affiliates. Writes Fienberg: "He claims affiliates started complaining in early November, that some affiliates fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in news ratings largely because of Leno. He emphasizes that 'The Jay Leno Show' did better in December, often coming in second. But the smaller affiliates started getting November numbers and in the middle of December, the drum-beating began, along with 'the possibility of preemption.'"

As for Conan, Gaspin said it was "a fluid situation" and "everybody has the weekend to think about it."

Sepinwall quotes Gaspin as saying that viewers didn't avoid Leno "because of the quality of the show or what the show was." "There were just so many other choices (at 10) that people thought were better."

What will replace Jay at 10? Initially, at least, expect a couple of dramas and plenty of "Dateline."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My name is Erik and I'm a Jay Leno fan

Who dares to come out of the closet publicly as a fan of Jay Leno? Erik Wemple, that's who. In the alternative weekly City Paper (Washington, D.C.), Wemple admits that he finds Leno funny.

"Yes, I enjoyed the monologue," he writes. "Loved 'Headlines' and guffawed at 'Bizarre Christmas Gifts.' Here was a show, I’d argue, hosted by a good guy who lived for comedy. Great smile, great jokes, and onstage bonhomie -- what more could you ask for?"

Wemple's friends gave him a hard time when he confessed his love for Leno: "...the hipster demographic hates Jay Leno. All the ingredients for a bad relationship are right on the shelf: Leno is a big, rich white guy who radiates establishment. He has way too many cars. And his brand of entertainment comes via a behemoth broadcast network, so there’s no process of discovery, no in-the-know cachet, to tapping into Leno." However, Wemple's quick survey of D.C. "hipsters" showed that most of them didn't even watch TV, making them more indifferent than hostile to the host.

Perhaps Wemple was searching in the wrong places for Leno-loathing Gen Y'ers. The comment section of the page is dripping with contempt for the Chinned One: "You've got to be kidding. Leno sucks," writes one commenter. "Conan is so much better. And Dave is the best of all of them. Jimmy Fallon is good too."

In other Late Show Wars news, the New York Times' Bill Carter interviewed "Late Night" host Fallon last night at an "Arts & Leisure Weekend" live event. "I’ll do my show at 3 in the morning. I’m just happy to have a show," said Fallon, whose program might be bumped from 12:35 to 1:05 to make way for Leno. "Time doesn’t really matter. We’re in a different age. I don’t even know what time 'Jersey Shore' is on."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fox: Conan would be a "great fit"

The New York Times and many other sources are reporting that if Conan O'Brien walks away from NBC, he may eventually be fielding an offer from Fox. "We’ve always been interested in late night and we’re always looking to bring great new talent to Fox," an anonymous source at the network told the Times' Bill Carter. "While Conan would be a great fit for Fox, he’s still under contract with NBC, so we’ll just see how all of this plays out."

Of course, one potential problem is that Fox doesn't currently program the 11 PM time slot, which means it (and all the lucrative advertising revenue) belongs to local stations. Here in the San Francisco area, our local Fox affiliate shows "Seinfeld" reruns at 11 -- and, I would suspect, probably does pretty well with them.

Also, as the Los Angeles Times' Company Town blog points out, Fox parent company NewsCorp might not be interested in paying big bucks for O'Brien. "It's true the network made a run at Conan six years ago (a move that led NBC to anoint Conan as Jay Leno's eventual successor, which led NBC to put Leno in prime time, which led to the mess NBC currently finds itself in), but the company may have different priorities now."

NBC to Conan: Move your show to midnight, or get off our network!

According to, NBC has given Conan O'Brien an ultimatum -- move to the midnight-1 AM time slot, or go away. "Our sources say Conan has not decided what he wants," says TMZ. "We do know he's pissed, because he was given no advanced warning this was coming... We're told if Conan gets another offer, even though NBC could block the move, they will let him go and give Leno the full hour."

OK, this is officially getting ridiculous. I feel bad for Conan -- I'm not the biggest O'Brien fan, but he deserves better (as do all of his loyal staff members who uprooted themselves from New York to Los Angeles last year). And after this 10 PM debacle, the Leno "brand" seems pretty badly damaged. If Conan walks, would Jay really be able to slip right back into his old "Tonight" format and start beating Dave in the ratings again? And what on earth is NBC going to put on at 10 in place of "The Jay Leno Show"?

This is truly one of those situations where there is no good solution. It's conceivable that O'Brien could decide to leave NBC -- and who could blame him if he did? It's like 1994 all over again (during his early days on "Late Night," NBC kept Conan on extremely short-term contracts -- generally 13 weeks long -- since they had so little confidence in him). If so, that could be bad news for "Nightline" and Jimmy Kimmel, if ABC decides to court him. (Presumably ABC would keep Kimmel but move his show to 12:35 AM.) Or he could wind up on FOX, which might decide to build a late night franchise around him. At least that would mean he'd be on at 11 PM.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jay Leno jokes about being canceled by NBC

According to the TVMoJoe blog, Jay Leno will be joking on his show tonight about the situation that's got all of America abuzz (or at least all of its TV columnists and critics). Here's a sample of his monologue, released by NBC:

"Happy birthday to Katie Couric, it's her birthday today. She left NBC for another network. I have to give her call to see how that is working out."

"As you may have heard, there is a rumor floating around that we were canceled. I heard it coming in this morning on the radio. So far no one has said anything to me. But Kev, if we did get canceled it will give us time to do some traveling. I understand that FOX is beautiful this time of year."

"I don’t think there is any truth to the rumors. See, it’s always been my experience that NBC only cancels you when you're in first place. So we are fine. We are OK."

Conan out, Leno back in at 11:30?

The Leno news keeps coming: is reporting that "sources" at NBC told them that "after the Olympics, Jay will take back his 11:30 PM time slot. What has not been decided -- whether Jay's show will be a half hour, followed by Conan, or whether Jay's show will be an hour and NBC says sayonara to Mr. O'Brien.

"We're told Jay and Conan have both been told of the changes. As for Jay, interestingly, he'll get what he always wanted -- his 11:30 PM time slot."

Edited to add:

At 8:15 PM Eastern time, the New York Times sent out a Breaking News Alert, the kind usually reserved to report important presidential proclamations and terrorist attacks, headlined "NBC Plan Would Move Leno to Late Nights." The Alert points to this story by Bill Carter, which suggests that NBC brass, after "extensive discussions" with Leno and O'Brien, will put Jay back on at 11:35 while bumping Conan to 12:05 PM.

“We remain committed to keeping Conan O’Brien on NBC,” the network said in a statement Thursday evening. “He is a valued part of our late-night line-up, as he has been for more than 16 years and is one of the most respected entertainers on television.”

The switch means that Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" show will start airing at 1:05 AM and poor Carson Daly, whose show has been in reruns since Dec. 21 and is scheduled to keep airing repeats at least through Jan. 29, won't be seen 'til 2:05.

Jay Leno: Fired? NBC says no

On Sunday morning, the Television Critics Association winter press tour will feature an "executive session" with NBC honchos Jeff Gaspin and Angela Bromstad. I'm guessing that there will be a lot of questions about the future of one Mr. Jay Leno.

Speculation has reached a fever pitch about the future of the troubled "Jay Leno Show," which has endured crummy ratings and a critical drubbing. TV "insider website" is currently trumpeting the headline, "NBC to Pull the Plug on Leno!"

In an interview on L.A. radio station KNX, FTV editor Scott Jones says the info is coming from "sources" at the Peacock Network. "The bean counters were told to crunch the numbers to see if Jay Leno was making money or not making money," said Jones. "The bean counters told the suits that the [network owned and operated stations] were getting killed in their numbers, in their late news numbers... The bean counters said, 'You know what? Jay Leno isn't making money for us.'

"There are two camps now at the highest level. One camp wants to pull Leno after the Olympics [when his show will be preempted] so he can go away quietly. Another camp, NBC has commissioned 19 pilot episodes... that other camp wants to wait and see what pilots come into the pipeline and see what they can replace Leno with."

What will happen with Conan O'Brien? "Right now, NBC is so fixed on the 10 PM number, I don't know how much conversation they're having about what happens at 11:30," said Jones. "Leno wants to go back to 11:30, from what my NBC sources say. He never wanted to leave there in the first place. Leno may not be out of NBC, but he's definitely going to be out of 10 PM, no question."

NBC took the unusual step of issuing two statements in response to Jones' story. The first: “Jay Leno is one of the most compelling entertainers in the world today. As we have said all along, Jay’s show has performed exactly as we anticipated on the network. It has, however, presented some issues for our affiliates. Both Jay and the show are committed to working closely with them to find ways to improve the performance.”

Since that sounded a bit wishy-washy, NBC came back with a more definitive statement saying that the Leno show had not been canceled.

Stephen Colbert's new Latin motto

How about that new set on "The Colbert Report"? There's plenty of new detail for viewers with high def signals to enjoy, including a Latin motto engraved underneath the big "C" on Colbert's fireplace.


It's been a while since my high school Latin classes, but I was able to find the words, "Videri quam esse," online. It's a backward version of North Carolina's state motto, "Esse quam videri." That phrase means, "To be, rather than to seem to be." So Colbert's inversion translates to, "To seem to be, rather than to be." Sounds like an appropriate motto for someone who coined the word "truthiness."

David Letterman: Should he apologize for trans joke?

David Letterman is in trouble -- again. LGBT rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, are calling for the host to apologize for a joke he made a couple nights ago about Amanda Simpson, who was recently appointed by the Obama Administration as a Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce. Simpson, a former test pilot, underwent a sex change operation about a decade ago.

Letterman noted the appointment in his monologue and a photo of Simpson was displayed. Announcer Alan Kalter, feigning horror, shouted, "What? Amanda? Amanda used to be a dude?" and ran off the stage.

"The decision to ignore the fact that Ms. Simpson is incredibly well-qualified for this vital national security position and focus instead on her gender identity reflects transphobia," wrote the Human Rights Campaign's Allyson Robinson. "Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day."

Not all LGBTs are mad at Dave. A post on gay web site suggested that if activist groups are "willing to give Letterman a smidge of a pass, there's another way of taking this joke: By understanding the funny part is about Simpson being hot. Which — have you seen her? — she is. And that she's accomplished passing as a woman — the ultimate goal of so many transgender women. If Kalter was fantasizing about her (thus, his being so upset upon learning she was born a man), that means her transition was that good."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Daily Show and Colbert go high def on Jan. 4

Almost a year ago, Talk Show News reported that Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" would start broadcasting in high definition in 2010. Broadcasting & Cable confirms that when the shows return from their holiday breaks on Jan. 4, both programs will indeed be in HD: "The holdup was the long process of updating the control rooms, while continuing to put on a program four times a week."

Of course, to view the programs in high def, you have to receive Comedy Central's HD station, which launched early last year. A bonus for West Coast viewers: so far, there's only one HD feed, which means those of us in the Pacific Time Zone can watch Jon and Stephen at 8 PM (the rebroadcast airs at 10:30 PM). East Coast folks will still have to wait until 11 PM, with a rerun at 1:30 AM.

In other "Daily Show" news, producer David Javerbaum revealed on San Francisco public radio station KQED's "Forum" talk show last month that he is working on a sequel to 2004's America: The Book, to be released in the fall of 2010.