In light of the somewhat historic Sons of Anarchy ratings last week, the press seems to be on a Jay-bashing run. Using the event to call attention to the "NBC mistake" and turning Jay into the I-told-you-so piñata. Being it was my show that set the fire, I thought I'd take the opportunity to clear up something -- I really like Jay Leno. I think he's a talented comedian who's earned his place as a preeminent force in late night entertainment.
When I sat in on the FX showrunners panel at TCA a few months ago, it ended up being a platform for Shawn Ryan to hammer home some residual strike angst. Most of that was pointed at NBC and Jay. And trust me, we all chimed in; most of us writers have residual strike angst. But none of us, including Shawn, really got a chance to expand upon the general comments and unfortunately our quotes were picked up by the trades; we sounded petty and angry.
But my beef -- and I think this is true for a good chunk of the creative community -- was never with Jay. Leno's an artist looking for a good gig like the rest of us. The truth is, NBC should have NEVER bumped him out of the 11:30 spot. No one bumped out Carson. Why Jay? His ratings were solid, he had a loyal following and he was constantly doing what he could to keep his show fresh -- dude is one of the hardest working cats in town. And it's obvious Conan's "younger" humor works way better in the later hour. The bigger concern is the potential dangerous trend that NBC is setting by putting Jay in the 10 pm spot. As Peter Tolan said, "...NBC is raising the white flag", essentially giving up on scripted dramas. And why is that? For all the reason I've mentioned in the previous blog -- to succeed in dramas you need employees who are intelligent, patient and creatively nurturing. Instead of fixing their system, NBC is creating a new one. An easier one. A cheaper one. One that doesn't demand talent. One that can be run by suit-monkeys and accountants. That's the core fear we are all experiencing. We realize that public consumption is changing. We are the ones who created Jon and Kate, TMZ and the gangsta paparazzi. We are the ones veraciously consuming rag-mags and reality TV. Losing five hours of episodic television is the result of that trend. And we all know it ain't going away. It's growing.
At the end of the day, NBC's new system may work and the once last-place buffoons could become the simpleton champions of prime-time. And then we'll all be pitching gameshow ideas to Lord Zucker and the suit-monkeys of the dark empire. But until then, let's back off Jay and beat the right piñata. I won't say who that is, but I guarantee you, when he splits open, there will be gold bullion and Universal stock options pouring out of his ass.