TV: The State of Late Night

Next month sees Jay Leno depart The Tonight Show for the second time.

This tectonic shift in late night television will see the show return to New York City for the first time in more than 40 years, returning to its ancestral home of Studio 5B in Rockefeller Centre. Along with the location change, current Late Night host Jimmy Fallon will take the reins of one of the greatest franchises in television history.

Fallon who has a background in improvisational and stand-up comedy will – from all reports, continue doing similar things to what he has done for the last five years on Late Night.

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Passing the torch, Leno and Fallon (photo: nbc)

The biggest change will be a longer opening monologue, a hallmark of The Tonight Show. Under both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, the around 10 minute monologue set the mood for the show, and condensed the days news into joke sized bites of politics, sports and entertainment. The monologue has been an important element of the show for over 50 years, it could be argued that to be a great host, you need to be quick, smart and most importantly; be able to deliver a good monologue, you can get away with not being the best interviewer, but the monologue is a deal breaker. 

When Conan O’Brien briefly took over the show in 2009 he also extended the length of his monologue and reduced the amount of time doing ‘desk pieces’. The issue there, is he was never the strongest at delivering monologue jokes, but rather at sketches and pieces shot remotely, not to mention having Leno’s lengthy monologue preceding him on his short-lived primetime variety show.

I shouldn’t think Fallon will struggle when it comes to this, his nervous and jumpy persona seems to give him a strangely unique way of delivering one-liners, and it won’t feel like he is ‘doing Jay’. His biggest issue is still interviews, but as we saw with Jay Leno’s lack of interview abilities, it shouldn’t hold him back.

I believe Fallon will be able to do what Conan couldn’t in the short time NBC provided him, appeal to a wider audience. His audience is slightly older than Conan’s already, which either reflects network television’s dated audience, or his ability to hold on to more of Leno’s older viewers.

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Can Seth Deliver? (photo: nbc)

The biggest question over the movement at NBC is whether the new host of Late Night, Seth Meyers will be able to stand out in an already crowded late night market. From the outset it looks as if he will be attempting to do something different to Letterman, Conan and Fallon before him and bring more political and news based comedy to the table. This may work, or it may not appeal to a wide enough audience on network television. 

The next few months will be interesting, especially as to how NBC will stomach potential audience losses and changes – and whether they will hold out and give their new hosts time to work out their kinks before pulling the plug prematurely, like before.

TV: SNL Adding Five Very White New Cast Members

Saturday Night Live has lost some terrific performers over the last two seasons, including Jason Sudekis and Bill Hader, it will also lose head writer and Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers when he transitions over to Late Night come February. 

To make up for this, Deadline Hollywood reports that it is adding five new cast members, including one from its existing writing staff.

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Michael Patrick O’Brien (not pictured) – SNL writer, 7 Minutes of Heaven

John Milhiser – comedian

Noël Wells – actress

Kyle Mooney – Good Neighbor, improv

Beck Bennett – Good Neighbor, improv

It’s great to hear there is a new female cast member, but it’s a shame they aren’t looking to add a more diverse cast, currently there exists only two (male) African-Americans (Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson) and one Iranian-American (Nasim Pedrad) cast member.

Mediaite has a decent round-up of some of these potential new cast members previous work.

TV: Anger Management – The New Way To Make Television?

Charlie Sheen’s sitcom ‘Anger Management’ began on FX as a 10/90 experiment, meaning that should the first 10 episodes meet a certain ratings threshold, then it will be automatically renewed for an additional 90 episodes, making 100 episodes in total. That is the amount of episodes usually required for syndication (selling reruns of the show to individual stations and markets).

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The ratings for Anger Management met the requirement, and it is now pumping out an additional 90 episodes as we speak, what is important to note with Anger Management, is that its ratings haven’t held up all that well for FX, but that shouldn’t bother Debmar-Mercury/Lionsgate, the shows producers, as they continue to profit, and will end up reaping significant rewards when the show begins in syndication. 

The biggest potential loser in any 10/90 deal is the original network airing the show, and having to pay for 90 more episodes of a show that could start bleeding viewers after the original 10 episodes. That’s a big risk, especially as each episode of Anger Management reportedly costs $600,000 for FX to air, but it’s a risk other networks are apparently willing to take on.

Kelsey Grammar and Martin Lawrence are set to begin production on a new sitcom which is being sold as a 10/90 venture – again to the FX network. The still untitled sitcom is set to feature the pair as Chicago lawyers from “vastly different backgrounds who unexpectedly meet in court on the worst day of their lives.”

My biggest issue with this format of production, is how are writers and producers supposed to properly frame a storyline, write good episodes and have the time necessary to really concentrate on the intricacies of a situation comedy, when they are expected to pump out around 45 episodes per year? Anger Management clearly suffers from this, as its writing is sloppy and its production values are cheap and very crude, it’s dropping ratings are also a concern to the network, and clearly the content is not that appealing to viewers.

Anger Management is airing first run episodes on sister network FOX over the summer in a bid to rescue the shows ratings, and give it a larger platform, but if that doesn’t help, it doesn’t bode that well for the future of this new way of production and distribution.