NBC Makes History in the Prime-time TV Ratings

NBC made history last week in the TV ratings — the kind it would like to forget.

Nielsen Media Research says an average of 4.4 million people were watching NBC during prime time last week. Only one time before has Nielsen recorded a lower number for NBC — during the dog days of August 2007.

Never before have ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox had such a small audience in a week when the ratings sweeps were on. The 2008-09 TV season officially concluded after Wednesday night last week.

NBC’s “Nightly News” had a bigger audience last week than any of the network’s prime-time shows.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


Leno Bids Farewell to `Tonight,’ Hello to O’Brien

In this photo provided by NBC, Conan O'Brien interviewed by ... NBC

Jay Leno’s final “Tonight Show” opens with a standing ovation from the audience and a monologue targeting politicians and other favorite targets.

Leno, taping his late NBC late-night show Friday, was greeted by a cheering audience and then launched into the opening jokes. He thanked all the people who made the last 17 years possible — Michael Jackson, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton.

Leno is leaving “Tonight” but not NBC: He returns in the fall with a daily prime-time show. Conan O’Brien takes over “Tonight” on Monday.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


Fans wait line for Jay Leno's final appearance as the host of ... AP

Leno gets set to leave the `most wonderful job’

It took a radio disc jockey to remind Jay Leno where he’ll stand in “Tonight Show” history when he walks off the stage for the last time Friday.

Leno was at the wheel of one of his famous vintage cars when he heard the DJ conduct a pop quiz: Who’s the second-longest-running host of “Tonight,” after Johnny Carson?

“The guy on the radio actually got it before I did,” Leno said Thursday, smiling. “It just sort of made me laugh. I went, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good.'”

Maybe even better than good?

“I come from ‘pretty good,'” replied Leno, unfailingly modest in interviews. “If somebody wants to say even better, that’s great.”

He will have posted an impressive 17 years as “Tonight” host, but well short of Carson’s three decades that ended with his retirement in May 1992. Leno debuted as “Tonight” host a few days later.

He leaves the show atop the late-night ratings, his run abbreviated by NBC’s decision five years ago to create a succession plan that gives “Tonight” to Conan O’Brien.

On the eve of his final two shows, Leno strikes an unsentimental tone. But he knows what he’s leaving behind as he moves to a new, untested 10 p.m. EDT daily prime-time show for NBC this fall.

“Will I miss it? Yes, terribly. It’s the most wonderful job ever in show business,” he said of “Tonight,” which started in 1954 with Steve Allen as host.

Unlike the solitary road life of a typical standup comedian, telling jokes to an audience of maybe 100 or so, Leno said, he had the chance to make millions of viewers laugh — and then go home each night to his wife.

In a conference room at NBC’s studio, a bulletin board typically filled with lists of guests and comedy bits for upcoming shows is nearly bare, down to the final two shows. “Prince,” read one red card for Thursday, when the pop star was set to appear.

Prince’s baby-blue Bentley was parked in the studio lot, near the backstage entrance and next to one of Leno’s prized vehicles, an eye-catching red pickup truck.

In the lunch room, the staff raided boxes of snack cakes, topped by a sign indicating they were compliments of Lyle Lovett, a guest earlier this week.

On Thursday’s show, Billy Crystal, Leno’s first “Tonight” guest 17 years ago, returned to salute him with a musical medley akin to Crystal’s Oscar ceremony opening numbers.

“Mustangs and Mazdas and shiny Mercedes, Model T Fords that he steals from old ladies,” sang Crystal, to the tune of “My Favorite Things.”

Starting Monday, at a newly built studio at nearby Universal City, O’Brien will be the man in charge of “Tonight.”

Leno declined to give advice to O’Brien, whom he called “a terrific guy” and a friend.

“He’ll bring his sensibility” to the show, Leno said.

Over the years, the two have called to commiserate privately after a “dreadful” guest visited “Tonight” or O’Brien’s “Late Night,” Leno said.

“Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that,” he said. After all, the two are enjoying an amicable transition.

“That’s what’s great about these American democracy things. We can peacefully hand over talk shows without looting and rioting,” Leno joked.

This summer, he’ll continue doing his standup appearances that filled his weekends during his “Tonight” reign. More importantly, he’ll get ready for the new show that, he acknowledges, will face stiff competition in prime-time.

“It’ll be really tricky. But we’ll just do the best we can,” Leno said.   AP

Creating a Tiny-Sized Piece of American History

I watched this show the other night on PBS and it was totally fascinating! No really, from an artist’s standpoint, it made me really want to create ‘American history.’

There is a story behind every postage stamp. Each of the iconic images on all those little bits of paper captures a unique angle of the American experience. Collectively, they represent the greatness in us. And while stamps are closely related to currency, the wide range of subjects they represent makes choosing them a personal decision.

American Stamps is a visually compelling thirty-minute documentary about the designers and artists who create our postage stamps. Supported by a soundtrack composed by acclaimed guitar virtuoso and art rock legend Bill Nelson, the program provides a behind-the-scenes look at how stamps are conceptualized, designed and produced.

Almost everyone is interested in the creative process; artists, designers and architects are often asked where their ideas come from and how they do what they do. Postage stamps present an ideal medium for exploring the concerns and motivations that drive creative professionals because they feature artistically rendered popular subjects and are designed for everyday use. Stamp designers and artists must take a diverse range of factors into consideration in selecting the most appropriate solution with the widest appeal. 

American Stamps features interviews with art directors Howard Paine, Phil Jordan, Derry Noyes, Carl Herrman, Richard Sheaff and Ethel Kessler. These long-time USPS associates share the details of their stamp creation process and explain the personal connections they have to the monumental characters and events they portray in miniature. The art directors are joined by portrait painter Michael Deas in describing how each produced some of America’s most popular stamps. The program focuses on six of their designs: Elvis Presley, the Wright brothers’ plane, Hawaiian athlete Duke Kahanamoku, Alexander Calder’s art, the American flag and playwright Tennessee Williams.

American Stamps also includes interviews with Terry McCaffrey, Manager of Stamp Design for the USPS and Wilson Hulme (1946-2007), former Curator of Philately at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. McCaffrey introduces the art directors and anchors the program with helpful backstory about the history of stamps in America, the criteria used in selecting stamp subjects, and how stamp artwork gets checked—and re-checked—for accuracy. Wilson Hulme discusses the fun of stamp collecting and the printing errors that can make a stamp extremely valuable.

Postage stamps carry the messages most important to us: our declarations of love, our job applications, and congratulations to our friends and family. In depicting and honoring their subjects, stamps play a significant role in memorializing national icons and showcasing important features of our culture and history. American Stamps offers an intimate look at these fascinating cultural artifacts and the people who create them.

Is That You Batman?

funny pictures of cats with captions

Quick History of the ‘Tonight Show’

Carson chats with Letterman on The Tonight Show in 1982; he was believed to favor Letterman over Leno. 

Carson chats with Letterman on The Tonight Show in 1982; he was believed to favor Letterman over Leno.

On May 29, Jay Leno hands over The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien, ending a 17-year run behind one of the most hallowed desks in show business–on a program that has barely changed since its debut more than 50 years ago.

In 1951, when most stations either went off the air at 11 p.m. or turned to B movies for late-night filler, NBC started a comedy series called Broadway Open House. The program lasted only a year, but it paved the way for The Tonight Show. Created as a 90-minute catchall variety show in 1954, The Tonight Show formed a template for late-night TV that everyone from Arsenio Hall to Jimmy Kimmel has since followed: witty banter, famous guests and eccentric sidekicks. Its first M.C., talk-show veteran Steve Allen, gave way just three years later to the unpredictable Jack Paar. In 1962, Paar left the show in the hands of a 36-year-old game-show host, Johnny Carson, who turned The Tonight Show from a success into a legend. (At one point, it accounted for 17% of NBC’s revenue.) Carson’s affable charm helped snag top-notch guests like John F. Kennedy, although his highest ratings came when 40 million people saw ukulele player Tiny Tim marry a 17-year-old fan on the air in 1969.

Carson’s 30-year run inspired emulators from Joan Rivers to Chevy Chase, and his 1992 retirement prompted a bitter succession war between David Letterman, the sardonic host of NBC’s Late Night, and Leno, a comedian. The network’s choice of Leno prompted a round of musical chairs in which Letterman defected to CBS, making room for O’Brien–a gawky comedy writer with almost no on-air experience–to take over Late Night. While O’Brien moves to the top spot this month, Leno isn’t going anywhere: he’ll create a new 10 p.m. talk show in the fall.   Time

Conan’s ‘Late Night’ Theme Being Adapted for ‘Tonight’

The new theme song for “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” will have a familiar ring to it.

That’s because Mr. O’Brien and executive producer Jeff Ross have opted to use a reworked version of Mr. O’Brien’s 16-year-old “Late Night” musical open as the theme song for the new incarnation of “Tonight.” Mr. Ross confirmed the decision Monday during an interview with TVWeek.

“We liked it. It worked,” Mr. Ross said of Mr. O’Brien’s “Late Night” theme. “We thought it we just embellished it a little bit, it would work perfectly for ‘The Tonight Show.'”

The theme was revamped by Jimmy Vivino and Max Weinberg, longtime members of Mr. O’Brien’s “Late Night” house band, the Max Weinberg 7.

Mr. Ross revealed that James Wormworth, a frequent substitute performer in the old Max Weinberg 7, is joining the late-night show as a permanent member of the house band. The new group will be known as Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band.

While instantly recognizable to anyone who’s heard it before, the new “Tonight Show” theme has a less manic feel to it, particularly during its opening chords. Perhaps befitting the largeness of the “Tonight Show” franchise, the beginning notes boast a grander tone.

The reworked song will be performed over the new “Tonight Show” opening titles. While “Late Night” featured animation during its open, Mr. Ross said Mr. O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” will utilize a live-action open. He declined to give details in advance of the show’s June 1 debut.

“It will look, hopefully, good,” Mr. Ross deadpanned.

The theme and opening titles are all part of an effort to give the new “Tonight Show” a “elegant feel,” as Mr. O’Brien recently told TVWeek.

“I wanted it to look like a really high-end steak restaurant,” he said. “I want people salivating when I’m in the monologue.”

Mr. O’Brien’s goal with the set was to acknowledge his New York talkshow roots, while recognizing the shift to Los Angeles. The solution: A deco feel via several subtle touches in the studio, including a mural across the top of the stage featuring Los Angeles icons as they might have appeared in the 1920s and 30s.

“It’s 30 Rock, but it’s this cool, Los Angeles version of it,” he said.

There’s also some whimsy to the set. The L.A. icons appearing in the skyline that will be seen behind Mr. O’Brien’s guests are in no particular geographical order. As a result, the Wiltern Theater appears to be west of the Santa Monica Pier and the Capitol Records building.

And, in another subtle nod to his New York past, careful observers of the backdrop used for Mr. O’Brien’s band will notice the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building adorning … the Los Angeles skyline.

“It was Conan’s idea,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s an homage to New York.”

During his interview with TVWeek, Mr. O’Brien betrayed little nervousness over his pending takeover of “Tonight.”

“I’m in a very serene state of denial,” he said. “They’ve told me it’s June 1, 2011, which has helped me stay very calm. I’ve been hypnotized into believing I’ve got two years left to prepare.”

One reason why Mr. O’Brien seems somewhat calm in advance of his 11:35 debut is the fact that he’s been readying for the role over the past five years, part of an evolution in Mr. O’Brien’s TV personality that’s taken place over the past 15-odd years.

“The biggest misperception is that suddenly [I am] shifting from 1993 ‘Late Night’ to 2009 ‘Tonight Show,'” he said. “Well, no. There’s a Conan that hosted the show in 1998 that’s different than 1993. And there’s a Conan who hosted the Emmys twice, who had to grow and adjust to do that. There have been specific phases you go through.

“In the last two years of “Late Night,” we really changed and expanded Act 1,” Mr. O’Brien added. “We’d do full-blown sketches from the monologue. If people haven’t been paying attention, and they tune in again in early June, they might think, ‘Oh, he completely, radically changed himself.’

“Well, no I didn’t,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”  TV Week