Like sands through the hourglass

It just occurred to me that the end of the Jay Leno “Tonight Show” a week or two ago might have been the end of an era — I wasn’t sure if it was the last production in the Burbank Studios, formerly owned by NBC. NBC sold the studio in 2008 and gradually moved most of its production to Universal Studios (which is now, of course, part of the same company as NBC). During Conan O’Brien’s short tenure as host of “The Tonight Show,” he broadcast from a studio on the Universal lot. I read just now that Conan’s old studio is now the home of “Chelsea Lately.”

Jay Leno, however, was comfortable in the Burbank facility and stayed there throughout both of his runs at “The Tonight Show” and the short-lived “Jay Leno Show.”

It turns out Jay wasn’t the last NBC star to leave the ship; Wikipedia says that “Access Hollywood” and “Days of Our Lives” are still being shot at the Burbank facility.

I got to tour the studios in the year 2000 when visiting my brother and sister-in-law in California. (I may have told this story before.) Our tour guide told us the story about Jay Leno and the studios.

When Jay first took over “The Tonight Show” in the early 1990s, he went into the same large stage where Johnny Carson had been presiding since moving the show from New York to California. Johnny, who got his start in radio, was used to not being able to see his audience, and he was far enough away from the bleachers, with bright TV lights shining in his eyes, that he didn’t see them when doing his monologue. Jay, who got his start in comedy clubs with the audience at his feet, was never comfortable with that arrangement. During a week of “Tonight Shows” on the road in New York, he found himself in a much smaller studio and noticed a change in his energy level. Upon returning to California, he asked to move onto one of the smaller stages in the Burbank complex, and a special platform was built so that during his monologue, he would be much, much closer to the audience than he had been. He could even shake hands with them as he took his mark. Jay became more relaxed in his new surroundings and eventually started beating David Letterman in the ratings.

We did not get to see the “Tonight Show” studio that day – they were doing sound check or something at the time of our tour. But at the time, they took you into the parking lot to see Jay’s parking space, and which of his many vehicles he’d driven to work that day. We went out, and gawked, and as we turned around to go back inside there was a man standing on the loading dock from which we’d emerged, smoking a cigarette.

It was – no kidding – Maury Povich, who was taping the first few episodes of his revival of “Twenty-One” that day. (Someone in the gift shop had tried to recruit us for the audience, but we already had tickets for a sitcom over on the Warner Brothers lot that evening.) Maury saw the tour group looking at him, tossed his cigarette and ducked back into the building.

There were murals outside some of the stages of famous shows that had been shot on those stages, and the one of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” made me think of Gary Owens, hand cupped to his ear, announcing that the program originated from “beautiful downtown Burbank.” (This was sarcasm; Burbank is neither particularly beautiful nor does it have a noticeable downtown.)

Steve Allen did his version of “The Tonight Show” from Rockefeller Center in New York, where Jimmy Fallon has just taken over. But this is from some other prime time show or special that Steverino shot in Burbank, and I like the way it makes use of the corridors, which actually still looked a lot like this in 2000:

Anyway, I don’t know if the current owners of the Burbank Studios give tours, but if they do, and if you’re in Southern California, you need to stop by. It’s a pop culture historic site if ever there was one.

‘Starring’, not ‘with’

I have noticed something that I’m surprised no TV writers have picked up on.

There were several stories over the weekend about NBC’s first on-air promo for Jimmy Fallon’s version of “The Tonight Show.” It’s a classy, well-done promo, invoking the long history of the “Tonight Show” brand, and I was pleased to see that NBC didn’t just ignore Conan O’Brien’s brief tenure.

It wasn’t until today that I noticed something about the show’s new logo.

The full name of the program for most of the 60s, all of the 70s and 80s, and into the 90s was “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” When Jay Leno took over, it became “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” and I remember some commentary at the time that this was an appropriate change in terminology — no one would ever be the commanding star of late night the way that Johnny was. A few years ago, we had “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien,” and then went back to “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Both of CBS’s late-night entries use “with” as well.

But — at least in that promo and the promotional art — the version of the show which will premiere next month will be “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”



I’m not saying it’s really all that big of a deal (and I’m eagerly looking forward to Fallon’s tenure, regardless), I’m just saying I’m surprised nobody’s noticed it.

Dueling parade coverage

NBC has covered the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for many, many, many years, and is allowed to set up at the Herald Square location in front of the Macy’s store, where various musical numbers and the like are presented while we wait for the parade to arrive.

But a parade, unlike, say, a football game, takes place in public, and you can’t really give any one network exclusive rights to point their cameras at it. CBS used to have what they called the “All-American Thanksgiving Parade,” which would cut back and forth between coverage of the New York parade and several others, some of them pre-recorded. One year, that included a parade of literal floats in the Delta river inside the Opryland Hotel.

I don’t actually know what CBS has been doing in recent years, but this morning they’re covering “The Thanksgiving Day Parade” – they don’t say “Macy’s” in the opening credits or on-screen graphics, because they’re not the authorized, official network and presumably don’t have the rights to use the Macy’s name. The hosts, however, do mention the parade’s sponsor and history.

Because most NBC stations here in the Central Time Zone air the “Today” show on a one-hour tape delay, the parade also gets delayed by an hour. So right now, “Today” is still going on on the local NBC affiliate, but the CBS parade coverage, which I assume to be live, has already begun. The parade hasn’t actually gotten to the CBS broadcast location. Since they don’t have access to the Broadway cast performances at Herald Square, they’re running things like a clip of a musical number from a Broadway show performed in its actual theater, and a clip of Martina McBride performing at the Hard Rock Cafe. They’re also trying to encourage social media interaction.

I’m having a quiet morning here at home – our family celebration will be a late one today, because we can’t get the family together until evening, and because of Dad’s injury. We’ll go to Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro for our holiday meal. (Things will be even stranger for me next year; I’ll be in Sierra Leone and will miss Thanksgiving altogether.) Hope you have a great day, whatever your situation.

Lopez Tonight

I will have to watch “Lopez Tonight” (for, I admit, the first time) this evening to see George Lopez’s reaction to Conan O’Brien’s announcement today.

Conan’s new TBS show will push “Lopez Tonight” back by an hour. According to Bill Carter of the New York Times, this was originally a deal-breaker for Conan. Conan had been on the wrong end of such an arrangement at NBC, which is why he left, and he — understandably, and to his credit — did not want to do to George Lopez what NBC and Jay Leno had done to him.

But then, Lopez personally called Conan and asked him to accept the arrangement. Lopez probably feels that a 12 Eastern / 11 Central show with Conan as his lead-in will turn out better in the long run than an 11 Eastern / 10 Central show with TBS’s sitcom reruns as a lead-in. I think he’s right, and I think having the two talk shows back to back will be good for both of them.

As I said, I haven’t seen George Lopez’s talk show before, although I’ve seen his standup comedy, and I think he probably likes an atmosphere like TBS where he gets comparatively little interference from network executives and can do his own style of comedy. I think Conan will thrive at TBS for just those same reasons. Conan’s last two weeks at “The Tonight Show” were some of the funniest shows he’s ever done, and it’s because he didn’t have anyone to impress and could just relax and do the show he wanted to do. TBS may give him less of a budget (I wonder if Andy or Max will be there), but I believe he’ll have much more free rein than he did at NBC or than he would have at FOX.

FOX, it is true, has a more free-wheeling approach in general than the three traditional networks, but the network was reported to be bristling at the cost of launching a new late-night talk show and was going to have to please a lot of unhappy affiliate stations from whom it would be forcibly taking an hour of late-night air time. I think FOX would have breathed down Conan’s neck in the same way that NBC did.

Even though Craig Ferguson is on a broadcast network, CBS, he has made the same kind of tradeoff Conan is making. Craig’s show is — as he likes to remind us — run on a low budget, I imagine lower than Conan’s will be at TBS. But the network lets him do his own thing.

…with Comet, of course

I wouldn’t have Facebooked this link if I had known I was going to come back and blog about it, but, doggone it, I can’t resist.

TV Squad has called attention
to something that I’d noticed for some time: NBC, as incidental music during its coverage of the last few Olympic games, frequently uses the opening theme of a short-lived but well-loved FOX series:

Carlton Cuse, the “Brisco County Jr.” creator who went on to create “Lost,” recently confirmed on his Twitter account that NBC was, indeed, using the “Brisco County” music.

“Brisco County Jr.” was a great show, which deserved a little more time to find an audience. It starred legendary horror actor / Old Spice pitchman Bruce Campbell, and the story was a sort of cross between “The Wild Wild West” and Indiana Jones, with a little bit of “The X-Files” thrown in for good measure. The breezy tone of the show was definitely a tribute to “Wild Wild West,” and I recall the producers admitting as much at the time. The chemistry between Campbell and Julius Carry, who played another bounty hunter — sometimes Brisco County’s rival, sometimes his ally, depending on the situation — was hilarious.

There is a DVD box set available, although it’s a little out of my price range at the moment.

I get a little sad whenever I hear the music on the Olympic coverage.

Why? ‘It’s just fun!’

Dave Letterman owns up to Dick Ebersol’s charge that Leno critics are “chicken-hearted and gutless,” and also admits the real reason he’s making fun of poor, put-upon Jay: “It’s just fun!” And, after all, Ebersol should be looking after more important matters, like picking Bob Costas’ sweaters for the Winter Olympics:

Live from New York?

I’m curious to see how, and if, “Saturday Night Live” addresses the late-night kerfluffle this evening.

On the one hand, it’s a big, public story and everyone would no doubt expect them to address it some how. And Conan, remember, is a former SNL writer; he was picked for his old “Late Night” hosting job by SNL creator Lorne Michaels, and “Late Night” often had SNL cast members as guests.

On the other hand….

NBC executives Jeff Zucker and Dick Ebersol (Ebersol produced SNL during the early 1980s) have made it clear that they aren’t happy about some of the shots the other late night hosts have taken at Jay Leno. Of course, it’s also likely they aren’t happy at the shots taken against Zucker, but they know complaining about that would be counter-productive.

As further proof of their thin-skinnedness on this issue, it’s rumored that one provision of Conan’s exit negotiations is that NBC wants him to commit to not criticize his former employers.

There’s also at least one report Lorne was miffed that he didn’t get to keep his executive producer credit when Conan moved west. That same report notes that Conan’s departure from NBC helps the future prospects of Michaels’ current talk show protege, Jimmy Fallon.

As I say, it should be interesting to see what SNL does tonight, if anything about this season of SNL can be called interesting.

Gallows humor?

Leno, to his credit, had fun with the rumors in his monologue tonight, saying that if he were canceled, he and bandleader Kevin Eubanks could go traveling.

“I hear the weather at FOX is lovely this time of year,” he quipped.

He also joked that NBC stood for “Never Believe your Contract.”

History repeating itself

In the early 1990s, NBC gave “The Tonight Show” to the bland, predictable, derivative Jay Leno instead of to the man who had single-handedly reinvented late-night comedy (and who was Johnny Carson’s personal favorite as heir apparent).

Now, it looks like NBC may give “The Tonight Show” back to the bland, predictable, derivative Jay Leno by taking it away from another genuine and often-misunderstood comic talent. I realize Conan O’Brien isn’t for all tastes, but I think he’s hilarious, and I’ve enjoyed him all the more since he brought Andy Richter back as his sidekick upon taking over the “Tonight Show.” I frequently watch Conan live and Letterman on the DVR, which for me is saying something.

If NBC does this thing, I hope Conan is able to get out of his contract and go to FOX or somewhere else.