The Jay Leno Show experiment, where nearly 1/3 of primetime was devoured in a quest to cling to SOME GUY, ends on February 12....and a new, terrifying flank of the campaign to cling tenaciously to The Chin like he was the last chopper out of 'Nam is now beginning. The NBC chairman has floated the idea that yes, Leno should get 11:35, and we'll just push everybody else back. The Tonight Show to midnight, Fallon to 1 AM, and Carson Daly...what, he's still on the payroll? Oh well, we'll find something for him. Maybe Early Today. In short, the guys who dug this hole are putting in a sub-basement.
Nobody who actually sits down and watches this crap were a bit surprised at the complete failure of Leno at 10. Prime time is still prime time, with its own set of expectations from the audience. 10 pm (9 central) is not 11:30, and if you can't adjust your approach accordingly, you deserve to fall to the hypnotic allure of David Caruso's sunglasses. (YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!) I tuned into Jay's show long enough to decide that it was just his Tonight Show in a new slot--which I had decided long ago wasn't for me, and then I walked away and found something new (coughcoughDAILYSHOW). As somebody else put it, Jay Leno is middle of the road to the point that he is the road, while I ride my metaphorical bike on the sidewalk.
(We could also conjecture that my rejection of Jay Leno at 10pm had something to do with NBC killing the most amazing show of 2009 in its cradle, proving that if they actually wanted to do something with real weight behind it, they could, but they'd rather just whip another round of goddamn Jaywalking on us. But that would imply that I am a deeply bitter man at how far the first American broadcast network has fallen, both as a commercial and artistic success...except on Thursdays. And maybe on Mondays, if they keep Chuck going.)
On the other hand, I have been with Conan from the first night. I've watched that show of his grow into something worth staying up for. I've developed an attachment to this 10 foot tall mutant and his gang. Yes, I'm a partisan. Shoot me, I like the stuff I like.
I also have a deep attachment to broadcasting history, especially the parts that are still in place. After all, there's less of them every year. Just like the 10pm experiment was a weak (and failed, I'll remind you) attempt to make Leno bigger than the network, to futz around with somebody else's Tonight Show, the whole "starting before 12" part, especially, just to massage Leno's feelings is to say that Leno is bigger than The Tonight Show, too. Pardon my French, but screw that noise. The Tonight Show casts a longer shadow than Leno or Conan or Johnny Carson or Jack Paar or Steve Allen because it throws all those shadows combined. It's definitely bigger than Jeff Zucker.
But I digress. The point of this whole preamble is that I think this marriage can be saved. And now, here's THE MASTER PLAN.
It's like a logic puzzle, really...let's look at the elements we're trying to mix in:
- We need to keep Conan on the Tonight Show, because Fox is watching this situation with covetous eyes.
- We need to keep the Tonight Show in the same slot it's held since the dawn of time.
- We need to keep Jay happy because...well, see the above part about Fox and the greedy eyes. However, Jay has refused to do anything in daytime, and really, who can blame him?
- There's three whole hours of Saturday night prime time that's basically a dead zone.
Well, all except one. Univision, baby.
Some of you are right with me. The rest of you, hear me out.
Sabado Gigante, to give the short version, is a little bit of everything as a big three hour Saturday primetime marathon. One day in the early 1960s, Don Francisco took a look at American and Argentinian television and said "Yeah, let's do that." "Let's do what?" "Let's do all of it." And that's what he's done every week since. I'm hampered by a lack of the lingo, but there are games, talent competitions, variety elements, comedy sketches...all the energetic, boisterous things that TV does well (or used to do well) well rolled up in one easy-to-find package.
And that's what I think Jay should do on NBC. If Leno is everything you say he is, and you really believe what you say about him, then give him Saturday prime time and the Sabado Gigante format to build the first Saturday night powerhouse in years. Jay's playing to a different audience than Don Francisco (and yes, I mean an audience that doesn't speak Spanish), so it's not like you're undercutting your source.
There's a very real chance this would come out to be a legendary failure, but dreaming small is part of what got this network in the cellar in the first place. At least they'll have forgotten about The Jay Leno Show.