If you keep up with such things, you know that NBC just deployed some sort of programming nuclear option, installing Jay Leno in the 10PM timeslot on weeknights. (The upshot? Your parents can get to bed earlier.)
The move must have come as a special kind of fuck you to Conan O’Brien, who was set to claim Leno’s “Tonight Show” crown upon his retirement next year. But Conan and the rest of the late night talk set responded, at least on air, with alacrity to the news.
The faltering NBC probably hopes this will be a balm to their recent troubles, since several of their high-profile shows like “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Lipstick Jungle” have been axed. Leno’s show will be cheaper, yes. And it’ll garner some attention at the outset, but is it a cure or really like putting Benadryl on that itchy patch of leprosy? We’ll find out! In any event, now ABC, CBS and Fox initially have the unenviable position of scrambling to program shows counter to Leno. With the move, people are now proclaiming The Death of the Prime Time Network Drama. Oh noes! And the show runners are taking pot shots. “I’m wondering if NBC is publicly transforming itself into AM radio,” said the creator of TNT’s “The Closer.” And that’s not untrue! So here’s the thing, the networks have been terrible stewards of scripted dramas (and comedies, sometimes) for the better part of this decade. All the interesting shows — “Mad Men,” “Damages,” “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” — are on cable. Just look at the recent Emmys. The days of the breakout mega-hit are done. Show runners, cede the airtime on the Big Four networks to the slack-jawed goobers who want nothing more than endless hours of Who Wants to Dance with a D-list Millionaire Famewhore: Makeover Edition. It’s time to pull up the tent stakes and hit the road. The rubes don’t want your brand of entertainment, they don’t want death-defying acts and feats of skill, they just want to laugh at the sideshow freaks and furtively stroke themselves in the cooch tent.
“The creation of new original programming is increasingly going to cable rather than over-the-air television,” [entertainment lawyer Kenneth] Ziffren said. He cited Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Family and Time Warner Inc.’s TNT and TBS as examples of cable channels that have benefited from the declining fortunes of network TV.
“If I’m Jeff Zucker, I’d rather have my new hit show on the USA or Sci Fi cable channels rather than NBC, because on cable you can get more bang for your buck,” Ziffren said.
The networks are a Roman Coliseum, a Thunderdome of inanity. Why fight to stem the tide of the inevitable? Get out now and leave the programming geniuses to figure out which combination of singing/dancing/ultimate fighting/plate-spinning/insect eating will yield the best Nielsen numbers.