Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jay and Dave, Observed

I finally got a chance to catch up on Dave and Jay. First off, The brand-spankin'-new Prime-Time Jay Leno Show. A few impressions:

• Watched it in HD, and that is quite a set. Jay does his thing in front of a backdrop full of windows, steel casements, and vibrant scenics. Lots of blue and purple lighting. Guests enter through a metal doorway-- in fact, the whole thing looks a bit like the front of an upscale department store. The number “10” is sprinkled throughout the set-- In particular the monologue stage mark, which is the old-school Indian-head NTSC test-pattern with the numeral dead center. Why remind us so much of when it's on? Oh, right.

• Jay himself looked sort of tired. His hair has gotten quite long and mostly snow-white, the dark stripe in front now quite small. His monologue fell remarkably flat, just recitations and references on the “John and Kate” level. In a few spots he revved up the sarcasm (“What an idiot!”), and some of the old Jay Leno fire came out. He's a great chat-show host, but I remember his HBO stand-up special from the early 80s: He was fast, profane and hysterical. That fire is still there, but he rations it out.

• When Jay sat down in his deskless interview set, he seemed even more tired.

• Jay Ungar, former “Daily Show” correspondent, did a remote piece about... Uh, I forget. It was painfully bad.

• Guest: Jennifer Garner. She looked positively radiant. The way she expertly crossed her legs when she sat down was so amazing, I had to rewind it and watch it again.

• Headlines: I love this segment. I always have. I'm glad he hung onto it.

Over on CBS, David Letterman kicked off his season with an interview with Barack Obama:

• I caught a piece of a Letterman rerun last week, and it was a bit of a shock: and he looked very much his age or older, peering over his glasses at the guest, dug-in and somewhat cantankerous. Not so last night. He was obviously energized by the Presidential visit: He was a dynamo, full of his trademark boyish charm and energy.

• If he was trying to impress his viewers that the CBS late-show franchise is in-place, unchanging and reliably entertaining, he definitely hit his mark. According to the NY Times:

The appearance by the President lifted David Letterman to his best overnight ratings number in four years and his second-best season-premiere number since he started on CBS in 1993. (Audience figures will be released late Tuesday afternoon.)

That performance should easily be good enough to give Mr. Letterman his first win over his NBC late-night competitor Conan O’Brien in the younger audience categories.
Meanwhile, Leno's rating are beginning to predictably slip as the rival networks start firing up their new episodes of procedurals and scripted dramas in the 10 p.m. slot. It's all kind of fun, because this bold strategy represents all-new territory for American television. Could yield some genuine surprises, which is something the nets have not managed to produce in quite a while.

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