Tessa and I were talking in the car today about the Jay Leno/late night television kerfuffle of the last year or so, when something super un-profound occurred to me: the experiment had failed. If you recall, the network (NBC) had crunched the numbers and said it was all about “margins” now – they only needed about 15 people to watch the Leno show at 10pm, and they’d still make money. Lots of people considered it a brilliant move.
At the time, none of the personal politics bothered me, even though my humor is much more in line with Conan O’Brien. Neither did I bemoan the fact that slots for five dramas (one for each night of the week previously in the 10pm spot) no longer existed, making our job that much harder. Nope, my concerns were much more precious and farty.
To me, if you get rid of dramas and put a celebrity talk show in its place, you’re beginning a death spiral where there are a hundred talk shows with nobody to talk to. Leno at 10pm replaced the very shows that would have created the stars he wanted to interview. It was like tearing down a Victorian mansion to build a Center for Victorian Mansion Preservation.
Yeah, I know that’s too lofty a pedestal for most television dramas, but the point stands. It reminds me a little of our current digital lives – so many places to connect, so many Facebook messages, so many tweets, so many platforms – yet little original content, causing social media to spend a lot of time talking about itself. It’s not a bad thing from the get-go, but it is unsustainable.
And oddly enough, the Leno experiment actually failed. They might have needed 15 people to watch, and only nine did. That means original storytelling, no matter how bad you might think it is on TV, still won. It’s very rare in capitalism that a huge conglomerate ended up deferring to some bards around a campfire, but that’s essentially what happened. And that’s worth a quiet celebration and another s’more.