Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There are tectonic shifts shaking up the TV schedule over at NBC. Jay Leno's last "Tonight Show" is Friday. Conan O'Brien is taking over. And in the fall, Leno's new show will be on at 10 pm five nights a week. It's the first time a network will devote that much primetime to a talk show. Commentator Andrew Wallenstein of The Hollywood Reporter says it may be unprecedented but for NBC it's not surprising.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: To understand what NBC is up to in late night, consider the comb-over: some men paste the remaining hair on their heads over their bald spots. And NBC takes the few big hits it has and just stretches it over fallow sections of its schedule. Hey, it's easier than what most networks do, which is trying to launch brand new hit shows. NBC tried the comb-over in 2004 with its must see TV lineup on Thursdays. They couldn't find any shows to pair with their hit sitcom "Friends."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friends")

Ms. JENNIFER ANISTON: (as Rachel) My God you guys, what am I doing, what am I doing. This is so un-me.

Ms. COURTNEY COX: (as Monica) If you want I'll do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: NBC resorted to what it's called super-sizing — expanding some comedies from 30 minutes to 45. The logic was, why try something new and fail when you could spread out what already worked? And it did, as NBC continues to do today. Episodes of "The Office" sometimes run a full hour, but the show's middling ratings don't deliver the way "Friends" once did. NBC applied the same formula to its morning line-up.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Today")

Unidentified Man: From NBC News, this is "Today."

WALLENSTEIN: It expanded the "Today" show to three hours in 2000, and then to four in 2007.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: NBC remains strong in the morning, but that fourth hour has become something of a punching bag for comics. NBC's own "Saturday Night Live" has mercilessly mocked co-host Kathie Lee Gifford for being just a little bit loopy.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh wow, how delicious. You look exhausted today.

Unidentified Woman #2: No, no. Wide awake, I got plenty of sleep.

Unidentified Woman #1: You could've fooled me. Can someone dim the lights? Huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: Can someone put some Vaseline on the lens? I mean, it's like the movie "Cocoon" over here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: As if "Saturday Night Live" is one to talk. The network introduced primetime versions of SNL last year, and more are in the works. That's NBC for you, squeezing golden eggs out of its prize geese. But there's a risk in doing that: burnout.

(Soundbite of music, "Theme from Law & Order")

WALLENSTEIN: NBC's tireless franchise "Law & Order" attempted to spawn a fourth edition called "Trial by Jury" in 2005. But this comb-over didn't stretch quite far enough. The show failed.

(Soundbite of music)

WALLENSTEIN: Now, NBC is going Rapunzel again. This time with Leno. When you include Jimmy Fallon and Carson Daly, the network has four funny white men with talk shows every weeknight. NBC's reliance on elasticity may be getting its toughest test yet. You know, maybe we shouldn't expect any less from a network nicknamed the Peacock, a bird that loves nothing more than fanning out its feathers.

BLOCK: That's Andrew Wallenstein of The Hollywood Reporter.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.