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After Leno's First Week In Late Night, What's Happening? Lots -- But Not in Late Night
March 5, 2010  | By David Bianculli
who-do-you-think-you-are.jpgJay Leno has had a week to reassert himself in late night, and NBC has had the same week to re-establish itself in prime time. So who's doing better in this first phase of reshuffling? In late night, Leno is dominating the ratings, but not doing anything impressive to earn his viewers. In prime time, on the other hand, NBC is trying an interesting thing or two. Or three...

On Fridays (tonight at 8 p.m. ET), NBC is launching Who Do You Think You Are, a genealogical series that takes our personal interest in discovering our roots -- an interest that helped 1977's Roots become the biggest miniseries in TV history -- and tapping them for a new feel-good reality series in which celebrities discover their family stories.

It's the same basic idea as the current PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates Jr., but tricked out with a bigger travel budget, incessant feel-good (or feel-SOMETHING) music, and annoying "moments" in which said celebrities are given air time, and "private" space, to absorb their familial discoveries.

But despite all that, and despite the obvious on-air plugs for an online family-tree-finding service, Who Do You Think You Are? is... interesting. In the opener, Sarah Jessica Parker eventually learns that one of her ancestors was part of the Salem Witch trials. But was she an accuser, or an accused? And, in either case, what happened to her?

In a future episode, Lisa Kudrow traces her past back to an even darker period of world history, with even more surprising results. Strip away the sappy veneer, and there are strong stories being told here. So I recommend you watch this show, to try it out for yourself.


The same goes for The Marriage Ref, another of this week's new NBC prime-time entries. The overly condensed Olympics-night preview wasn't that good, but Thursday's one-hour installment -- featuring Jerry Seinfeld, Eva Longoria-Parker and Tina Fey as panelists -- flowed much more naturally.

Yes, the "arguments" are meaningless. But so were the $50 grand prizes on What's My Line? and other long-running prime-time panel shows, where the real entertainment was in watching celebrities speak, unscripted, and goof around. That's less rare now than it used to be -- but when The Marriage Ref can assemble a panel, yet to be televised, featuring Larry David, Ricky Gervais and Madonna, there's no WAY I'm missing that.


As for Parenthood, the one scripted new entry from NBC this week, it's not great -- and, at times, it's grating. But at other times, most of them including Lauren Graham, it lives up to the potential of the original film, and is quite watchable.

And, like the other shows mentioned, it's infinitely better than The Jay Leno Show, which used to gobble up five weekly prime-time NBC hours.

As for Leno on The Tonight Show, more on that later. But when the best part of week one was a monologue by a guest -- Sarah Palin -- the host himself didn't come off as either reinvigorated or particularly impressive.




Simon said:

Has someone from NBC kidnapped David Bianculli and replaced him with an evil automated computer bent on posting fluff?

Seriously, David, it's hard to believe that you did not find The Marriage Ref to be noxious. The show seems harmless, mostly harmless, not deliberately or overtly offensive. But the show is also just terribly weak. An hour of The Marriage Ref brings few smiles to the face, and few or no actual laughs.

Was Leno At 10 just soooooo toxic and unpardonable that The Big Bianculli happily settles for The Marriage Ref in its place?

[That may well be part of it -- but I'm such a fan of old-style panel shows, I seem more capable than most of ignoring the trappings and enjoying the banter. But I'm reserving final judgment, and counsel the same, until the Larry David-Rickey Gervais-Madonna show. -- David B.]

Comment posted on March 6, 2010 2:03 AM

Greg Kibitz said:

The Joke of it all is that we will never know if Jay legitiately is better than Conan in ratings because without Jay at 10pm as a pre-news lead in for Jay at 11:30 we will never have a true apples to apples comparison. And now with NBC so strong @ 10pm (love the three new shows plus am so happy to see my Law & Orders back where they belong) Jay will always look like the real hinge pin of NBC Late Night when IMO, is it just that most people are too lazy to switch the channel from what ever 11 PM news they watch and they do likewise after their 10PM drama and as we all know, the only Drama on NBC at 10PM began when Conan said No and even then I still only watched Jay once or twice.

Of course, I could be wrong because as we all know Conan is an East Coast Liberal Elite and Jay is a "man of the people" (translation: dumb-ass redneck boy who made good) and, as we have seen in the last 10 years or so in the good old US of A, folks like Jay somehow garner just about half of the electorate partly becasue he is just like them. However, because liberal elites are far more likely to not watch any TV at all, the Leno types can really skew the numbers. Sadly my Jeopardy and PBS loving ilk will never even come close to outnumbering that of either the Superbowl or NASCAR.

Comment posted on March 7, 2010 4:11 PM
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