AN OPEN LETTER TO JAY LENO
According to the always indefatigable Nikki Finke, you're getting the royal run-a-round by your bosses at NBC. NBC doesn't want you stealing the Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show's thunder, so they're allegedly slapping all sorts of rules about who you can and can't book, and other such nonsense. Now Nikki offered some advice in her column and I'm going to offer some of my own.
1. DITCH THE INSECURITY: Jay, your 17 year run on The Tonight Show, and the commensurate boost in live show fees, have left you rich and capable of easily living the life of a 17th century French monarch for the rest of your life.
According to one urban legend you haven't even cashed your paychecks from the Tonight Show in 15 years, you are that loaded. You don't have to be afraid of being replaced, because it's already happened, and you're still alive. Quit listening to that little imp on your shoulder, and get on with your life.
2. FOR NBC MANAGEMENT FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION, IT'S A WAY OF LIFE: Jeff Zucker owes his position to two things:
A) A growth found on the colon of GE's CEO turned out to be Jeff Zucker's head. Get the hint.
B) The only person with the positioning to possibly replace Zucker is Ben Silverman, who needs an instruction manual to organise a shag in a brothel. The only way he could replace Zucker is if GE gets taken over by an orangutan with a head injury and a taste for the chronic.
They don't need to be successful to still cash their fat paychecks, and won't do anything that might pull NBC from it's current state as the Must Not See TV network, because it might reflect poorly on the fact that they've screwed everything up so far. They are not your ally in this fight, they are your main enemy.
3. YOU NEED A HARVEY KORMAN, IN FACT YOU NEED A TROUPE OF THEM: When pop singer Tony Orlando was hosting his own variety show in the 70s he asked Carol Burnett how she managed to do her show for so long with so little stress. She answered: "Get yourself a Harvey Korman." The secret to Carol Burnett's longevity as the last of the great prime time variety shows is that she surrounded herself with a cast that she trusted and enjoyed working with, led by Harvey Korman. She didn't have to be in every sketch, and even in the ones she appeared in, she didn't need to star in all of them. Don't let that imp of insecurity make you paranoid that anyone funny is going to replace you. So what if they do, cash all those uncashed checks and bankrupt NBC, that'll show them.
Nikki Finke says you should poach every bit of talent you can get your hands on, and I agree. You're going to need all hands on deck, and probably set them up on some sort of rotation because...
4. YOU SHOULD HAVE AVOIDED THE NIGHTLY SCHEDULE: A prime time talk show just isn't going to work, especially if it's just going to be a rehash of the late night shows. Late night audiences are half asleep, or stoned, and can be a little more forgiving, because there's still the mindset that anything on after 11 PM as an extra bonus. Prime time audiences view prime time programming as if they're paying for it. They can be harsh, and downright brutal if they don't think they're getting what they think their attention is worth.
You should have aimed for a weekly variety show with a locked in time-slot, that the network can't move around on a whim. (Anything but Thursday, because everyone seems to putting their top shows on Thursday) Then you could have made that night your night, and turned your show into appointment television like Ed Sullivan in his glory days.
Doing a nightly show is a trap set by NBC. They know the imp of insecurity will scream in your ear to take the deal, because you obviously still feel you need to prove to the world that you're still capable of hosting the Tonight Show. But you're not hosting the Tonight Show, you got ousted, it's over, it's done and dusted. Instead you allowed your insecurity to provide 5 hours a week of relatively cheap prime time programming for NBC, and its inevitable failure, if you stick with the talk-show, as a good excuse to cut you loose permanently.
Well Jay, I hope you find this advice helpful.