Programming

Left Coast Bias: Time to Find Out Where We Stand

9/19/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

What if the viewers just aren't coming back this fall?”

That's what a top network TV executive said to me over an adult beverage at a ballgame. Three years ago. And more than one exec has said basically the same thing to me in the last few days. But three years ago, it was “what if.” This year, it's more “oh sh-t.” I doubt there's a bottle of Maalox (or Xanax) left in this town right now.

Jay Leno predictably came out of the box strong with an opening night 5.3 in the demo, thanks to weak competition and the big money NBCU spent promoting it (as in bribing Kanye to pull that VMA stunt).

I'm wondering if any rookies will premiere higher than that. My not-really-educated guess is no. And that stinks, because the networks have made some really good shows. But as one network exec said last week, now we're going to find out if viewers still want to see great new shows on broadcast TV. Here's hoping.

Everybody Hates Jay, Apparently: I have always been a Letterman guy, but even I've been a little stunned by the unadulterated vitriol that has greeted The Jay Leno Show from seemingly every direction. Yes, it is just a reshuffled Tonight Show. What the hell did you expect? You really think that after doing things one way all this time, Leno suddenly has another club in his bag? Yes, the comedy bits are too long. But that malady plagues every late-night show.

Yes, the critics hate it. Shocker. They have always trashed Jay. Now they trash basically the same show 90 minutes earlier.

Yes, NBC is in last place. That was part of the reason the network could try this, whether the show makes money or not (a huge source of debate among network rivals and objective observers alike).

But still: It ended up inspiring what felt like the nastiest reaction to a TV project in a long while.

Shove This Down Their Throats: Serena Williams' recent outburst was an embarrassment not only for her, but for the entire sport of tennis. And very much so for the U.S. Open; if tournament officials had any (tennis) balls, they would have suspended her immediately and not allowed her to play the doubles final with her sister.

So here's a little publicity-stunt idea, free of charge, for our friends at the Tennis Channel: Suspend Serena yourself. Institute a three-match ban and refuse to show her next couple of matches in the name of sportsmanship. It'd be good pub, and a great message.

Has Everyone Lost Their Mind?: Speaking of Serena, what the hell is going on this month? The old adage in politics is, if you're going to do something considered less than ideal (like, say, bedding a couple of lobbyists and then bragging about it), don't do it in August because the media has nothing else to cover. Apparently, everyone waited until this month.

You've heard of the TV docudrama The Missiles of October? This is like the “Schmucks of September.”

You have Serena Williams' audition for “Anger Management 2,” Kanye West's desperation, Joe Wilson's publicity grab, Terry Moran's “jackass” Twitter account, CNN scaring the hell out of everyone again on Sept. 11, and probably many others since I wrote this.

Universal health care may not pass anytime soon, but all of these people can afford proper medication. Let's use it, people. Or at least send it to those who need it most this week: the network execs.

E-mail comments to ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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