Wednesday, January 20, 2010

While I Was Sleeping

There are times when I would feel comfortable submitting my name for contention as the most obtuse person in these United States on certain "important" aspects of our popular culture. While I look down into my backyard every morning out of my bedroom window it seems at times as if I reside in a hole - or at the very least that unseen soundproof booth that Family Feud always claimed to send the back half of the two-member team from the victorious team during the Fast Money round. I might have been the last male in America to have heard of the Hilton Sisters, the Kardashian Sisters and Megan Fox.

While Margaret and I were for years loyal watchers of Survivor (so there is no "reality TV" snobbery here) I have never seen a complete episode of American Idol. Last week I was blissfully ignorant as to the basis of the Facebook status phenomenon in which countless people I know - including any number of people my age and older - included the words, "Pants on the Ground" in his or her update. It soared without impediment over my head. I only solved that particular mystery when Fox - as is its tendency to do - beat its audience for the New Orleans/Arizona NFL Divisional Playoff Game to death on Saturday afternoon with promos for American Idol featuring the contestant who sang that original composition.

Once upon a time - or simply so long ago that it feels as if it was in another lifetime - I stayed up late enough into the evening that I watched late-night TV. I was a child of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and went to college in an era when David Letterman was on air in two places he has not been for many years: NBC and 12:30 A.M. Eastern time. In college, one could watch the Tonight Show and then Letterman; all without having to get up and change the channel. Even better, because I went to college in the Mountain Time Zone "late night TV" actually started at 10:30, which meant that I could watch Carson from start to finish and still be asleep on the "late night" side of midnight as opposed to its "early morning" side.

I am not a complete idiot so I know very well who Jay Leno is and who Conan O'Brien is. However, I feel compelled to admit that I never saw a complete episode of O'Brien's version of "Late Night", which he began to host (I think) when Letterman lost the coin toss to be Carson's successor and scooted on down the dial (showing off my New York metropolitan roots I know where the CBS station is Channel 2 and its NBC counterpart is Channel 4) to CBS. I have friends who watched it regularly for years and enjoyed it quite a bit. I have no experience with which to either support or refute their position. Likewise, while I saw Leno serve as Carson's "Permanent Guest Host" too many times to count, during the lifespan of his stewardship of the program, I cannot recall a night that I watched it in its entirety. Again, judging by the ratings he garnered for a number of years, there were a considerable number of people for whom Leno was must-see TV.

Not for me. My alarm clock signals the call to the post in the wee small hours of the morning every morning. In my experience one cannot get one's first look at the day at 3:00 a.m. with regularity if one is getting his last glimpse at the previous day only an hour or two earlier. I was aware of the fact that last May NBC "retired" Leno from The Tonight Show in order to move O'Brien across the country to take over as its host. I did not watch Leno's last episode and at gunpoint I could not tell you who his final guest was......although I am fairly confident it was not the Pants on the Ground guy.

Now, less than one year after Leno was out of The Tonight Show and serving as an anchor to NBC's prime-time lineup (the imagery works better if you envision an anchor dropped straight through the decks of a wooden sailing vessel that punches a hole in its hull below the water line) and O'Brien has apparently been doing likewise on the Tonight Show, NBC believed it has located the keys to Professor Peabody's pride and joy. It put Leno's 10:00 p.m. show out of its misery and announced it was moving him back to 11:30, which created a bit of a scheduling dilemma. For while I know less about science than any person alive even I recall walking past a Physics classroom in high school while a teacher instructed the kids in my school who were smart enough to grasp Physics that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the came time.

Unsurprisingly, the 11:30 time slot was not big enough for Messrs. Leno and O'Brien - although one wonders (albeit rhetorically I suppose) if two people with regulation-sized jawbones and high and tight haircuts might not have been able to fit there together comfortably. NBC has spent the past week to ten days conducting a how-to seminar in front of the entire country on "How Not To Run The Programming Department At Your Television Network", which I am sure has warmed the little cockles of the little hearts of the big boys at Comcast. Even as the inevitable end approaches, this whole silliness has not gone gentle into that good night.

So - as is always the case in my world - I am left to ponder how all of us this impacts me? And I am pleased to realize not at all. My day ends well in advance of 11:30 p.m. so whether it is the fella with the lantern-sized jaw or the fella with the golf umbrella-sized pompadour sitting behind the desk, I shall not be sitting in front of my set. From afar both Leno and O'Brien seem to be reasonably nice men so I hope that each lands on his feet irrespective of the return address of the landing zone. But I hope even more fervently that each of them - and each of us - has reacquainted ourselves with the importance of keeping all that swirls around us in perspective.

Undoubtedly, O'Brien is hurt, upset and angry over feeling as if he is being aced out a job after seven months doing it after having spent sixty months preparing to do it. Luckily for him, he will have many millions of dollars at his disposal to comfort him while he cools his heels and contemplates his next move. Personally, I have difficulty feeling too badly for someone who shall pocket (by some reports) anywhere between $25 Million and $40 Million, paid to him by NBC, simply for agreeing to not appear on NBC any longer. Imagine your employer writing you a check with 8 numbers to the left of the decimal point as long as you agree to NOT CONTINUE to come to work. What is the over/under for time spent looking for the crew from Candid Camera during that meeting with one's boss?

Last Tuesday afternoon O'Brien released his "People of Earth" letter. In it he told his bosses at NBC what they could do with their "new" idea regarding their late-night television lineup and where - precisely - they could stick the peacock. It is a funny read. And it was intended as an effort to put a fine, sarcastic point on what O'Brien undoubtedly (and appropriately given that it is his livelihood that is being impacted) considered to a serious issue. But then something completely off-script happened and we were reminded that even though "serious" is a relative term, neither Mother Nature nor the Einstein Estate permits absolutely everything to be included within its definitional boundary lines.

We all get our fifteen minutes it seems. We simply do not bother to synchronize our watches.


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