Variety spins the late night wars into a victory for..the AMPTP

by Paul William Tenny

letterman-strike.jpgBest friend of the poor, blue-collar working (billion dollar multi-national) media corporations, Variety, has a story up that must have the AMPTP CEOs dancing on their boardroom tables (rumor: boardroom tables have been sold at auction to make up for hundred-million-dollar losses due to strike):

Writers or no writers, Jay Leno is still TV's latenight leader.

In its first three nights back on the air last week, NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" easily beat CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" in all key categories, according to final Nielsen data released Thursday. "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," whose host is also operating sans scribes, topped the WGA-blessed "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson."

A couple of things worth nothing here, first being that nobody perhaps except the idiots at Variety thought Letterman would top Leno in their first three days back from hiatus. Leno has been winning that fight for years and his fans weren't going to abandon the show just because the jokes were going to tank.
Anyone with a brain would have said to look at the picture a month later; take a good, hard look at the ratings trend lines to see if Leno and O'Brien started to bleed viewers. We're not that far out quite yet and even so, media companies tend to horde that kind of comparative Nielsen data anyway so it's not like we'd get to see it either way.

Second, Variety in its rush to fluff the corporate giants that pay for most of its operations through ads, negleceted to mention how a lot of people tuned into Jay over Dave just to see how bad of a train wreck it was going to be without writers. Anyone that did the same for Conan actually got to see one, every single night, and will continue to for as long as the strike lasts.

That show was absolutely horrible. His first night back on the air, Conan spent 10 minutes spinning his wedding ring on his desk, dancing on his desk, giving a video tour of his office, and eventually later in the week, spending 10 minutes exploring the studio catwalks. It was every bit as horrible as you could possibly imagined, and perhaps that kind of human failure is more interesting to see than the actual jokes -- which would really explain why reality TV is so popular now.

If anything, the networks may have had that very thought themselves. Without the writers, we can turn these late night talkers into pure unscripted reality programming -- forever. And they think that's a good thing.

Me? Not so much. Just look at the guests going on Leno and those on Letterman and it's obvious who is winning that fight, ratings be damned.

Third, nobody in the world could have predicted that one of the most early visible strike supporters would then around and scab. Leno has been told repeatedly and it seems like most other professional writer-bloggers completely agree, that what he is doing is breaking the strike rules, and opens him up for sanctions which I whole heartedly support.

Neither O'Brien nor any other host without their writers is scabbing, but Leno places himself above everybody else (a better reason for replacing his tired ass with O'Brien who is at least trying not to write as soon as possible I've not yet seen) and is putting his greater stock in what NBC's lawyers are telling him than what the guild rules say.

Is it any wonder that Leno is staying competitive with Letterman? Not at all -- they both have WGA writers working for them, the only difference is Letterman's writers are working under a sanctioned contract, while Leno is crossing the picket lines and scabbing at the same time. What you've got now between the two shows is exactly what you had before the strike, and that's a big reason why The Tonight Show hasn't crashed and burned yet.

To be honest, I'm almost as angry at Variety as I am Leno, for lying to the public about this. They don't give a single word to Jay's strike breaking and play it as if not having writers doesn't matter at all, something I'm sure the AMPTP would just love for the world to believe.

Finally, there is this bit:

Winning perfs by the NBC shows disproved predictions that the Peacockskeins would be put at a serious ratings disadvantage since their CBS counterparts are operating with their full writing staffs and don't have to worry about SAG members refusing to cross picket lines.

As I said, absolutely nobody made such a prediction because nobody was stupid enough to try. Sit back and see what happens is what most people said, with an eye towards accounting for the train wreck factor. What this amounts to is an outright lie by Variety, a strawman if you will, painted to make writers and their supporters look bad while not acknowledging the truth -- that what has happened, sans Jay scabbing, was expected all along.
in Ratings, Television


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