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What I Learned From Jay Leno's Prime Time Debut: Part I

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Monday night I watched the Yankee game on the Yes network in New York. It was an exciting game highlighted by good pitching, timely hitting, excellent base running, and savvy managing. It was great television because it was unscripted and, thus, had an unknown and surprising outcome.

During commercials and pitching changes in the Yankees game, I switched to ESPN's "Monday Night Football," which featured another unscripted and, thus, unknown and surprising outcome as Tom Brady of the New England Patriots coolly and confidently brought his team from behind to beat a tough Buffalo Bills team with only two minutes left in the game.

I then remembered that Jay Leno was making his prime time debut at 10:00 p.m. on NBC, so I quickly switched to Channel 4. I caught Jay introducing his first guest, Jerry Seinfeld. I haven't watched Jay Leno's "Tonight" show in over 15 years and the last time I watched a prime time regularly scheduled network comedy or drama program was the last episode of "Seinfeld" in May of 1998.

I now know why I stopped watching prime time terrestrial network TV programs (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) - they're boring, scripted, and totally predictable. The new Jay Leno show was no exception. The interview with Seinfeld was stiff and overly scripted; even the phony pre-taped appearance of Oprah was stiff, boring, and predictable. The apology by Kanye West was maudlin and gave unnecessary exposure to a clearly troubled young man.

Jay's faux interview with Obama was way too cute and disingenuously self-deprecating - a suit that does not fit Leno, who looks uncomfortable in any suit. And his final bit of showing goofy headlines and ads was a tired rehash of his old "Tonight Show" routine. It featured lowest-common-denominator, puerile, smutty humor - exactly the kind of dumb material that appeals to the majority of people who still watch prime time terrestrial network TV programs: the poorly educated, the poorly informed, and the culturally and intellectually barren.

Therefore, Leno's prime time debut got great ratings, according to the NY Times' Bill Carter in his Media Decoder blog, by attracting 18 million viewers, which "exceeded expectations."

I'm baffled by the notion that NBC "expected" fewer than 18 million people to watch Leno's debut program after the incredible hype NBC produced for the show. It must have forgotten H. L. Menken's line "that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."

Leno's new program was touted to be "the future of television" by Time magazine. Of course, this quote was featured in a story in the NY Times by the constantly error-prone Alessandra Stanley, who, once again, in spite of being caught making serial mistakes in her obit of Walter Cronkite, was wrong in her facts. Her squadron of fact checkers were asleep at the switch again (they must be members of the NY Times union - the New York Newspaper Guild - and, like Stanley, can't be fired).

In her story she writes, "the reading of goofy misprints taken from newspaper headlines." Leno's final bit did not consist of all misprints. Many were merely headlines that could be read in an unintended and different way, and they were not all from newspaper headlines. Many were from stupid ads, such as the final one, an ad for a Chinese restaurant - The House of Poon - which Leno leered at.

Stanley also gave the Leno debut show a tepid (and insipid) review that made a big deal out of the Kanye West apology, which was apparently serendipitous, and never mentioned the much longer and more substantial faux Obama interview. Did she watch the program?

Not only was Stanley's review poorly written and inaccurate (which has become her MO), it had no bite, which I'm sad to say has become de rigeur for NY Times TV coverage - it was taken on the personality and characteristics of the medium it covers.

So what did I learn from watching Jay Leno's debut and reading about it in the NY Times? 1) Don't watch Jay Leno's new prime time show; it's dull and overly scripted. 2) Don't watch prime time terrestrial network TV entertainment programming; it's not entertaining. 3) Don't read about TV in the NY Times; its coverage is insipid and inaccurate.

In other words, as always, I didn't learn anything new on network TV.

But what did I learn by watching WBNC-TV's local news right after the Leno show? I'll tell you in Part II.

And what did I learn by going to WNBC-TV's Web site after I watched the local news? I'll tell you in Part III.

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