News From ME

From the E-Mailbag…

Ted Herrmann wrote me to say…

I only hope Leno doesn't do a long fade into obscurity like Merv did — seemed like his syndicated show went on for years and years…and years.

There are performers — though I don't know that Jay is one of them — who'd be quite happy with any show that went on for years and years…and years. I have a friend who got a job some time back as a regular in a sitcom. Before it went on, we were at a party and someone said to him, "I hope it's the next Bob Newhart Show." He said, "I'd rather it was the next Perfect Strangers." He explained he'd be more comfy with a series that didn't draw a lot of attention but did draw enough of an audience that (a) he felt he was entertaining a huge chunk of America and (b) it stayed on a long, long time. Perfect Strangers was on for eight seasons. The Bob Newhart Show was on for six.

You can want all sorts of different things as a performer. You can be primarily motivated by money. You can yearn to have people recognizing you in restaurants. You can want artistic satisfaction or recognition. If you got a TV series, you might want it to be the capstone of your career or you might want it to catapult you into movies. A powerful wish by some is that — never mind fame or fortune — they just won't have to go out and look for a job for a while…and they hope that when they finally do, they don't have to go back to auditioning like an unknown beginner.

Leno's kind of different from other guys who've done talk shows in that he has a second career that is very lucrative and which he enjoys very much: Doing stand-up. If he lost The Tonight Show and never got another talk show again, he could probably be pretty happy and well-compensated just working in Las Vegas and doing concert dates until such time as he was standing-up with the aid of a walker. I can't think of anyone else who ever hosted a talk show for any length of time who had that kind of fallback position. Pat Sajak, when he did his, still had Wheel of Fortune but his talk show was more like a temp job…something to do in his spare time when he wasn't selling vowels. Carson wasn't going to go out and play Vegas, Letterman isn't going to go out and play Vegas, Conan wasn't going to go out and play Vegas…

I dunno what to make of this supposed interest from Fox. If Jay is really going to be taken off The Tonight Show, as seems increasingly his destiny, there will probably be some kind of fight over how long NBC will be able to prevent him from engaging elsewhere. That may be all they're talking about right now over there. Fox may not want to wait, feeling that Jay will cool off too much before they get him. If they do want him when he's available, the next question would be the terms of the deal and the solidity of their commitment. I doubt he'd go there if there was a chance of being dumped in six months or a year. If I were in his position, I'd try demanding a clause that established a certain minimum acceptable ratings level for my show and specified that I could not be cancelled as long as I didn't dip below it for X consecutive months.

When I think of what's gone on with Leno, I'm reminded of a quote from Ken Berry, who starred in a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show called Mayberry, R.F.D. It was the fifteenth highest-rated show and #1 in its time slot when CBS decided to purge itself of "rural" shows and cancelled it. Berry let his anger seep into public view and said, "I feel like I played by their rules, I won by their rules…and then they changed their rules." I don't feel sorry for Jay because I think it's insane to feel even a tinge of sympathy for a guy who's doing that well. I just like following this story because it reminds me that the one certain thing about show business is that that there are no certain things in show business. Except that whatever you watch, there's always a Geico commercial.