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Dead Tree Alert: In Which I Write A Lot of Words About Jay Leno

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Andrew Eccles for TIME

Andrew Eccles for TIME

As if you needed proof that the week before Labor Day is the slowest news week of the year, I have the cover story in TIME magazine. It’s about Jay Leno, his new show and how this big gamble and cost-saving measure represents, as the cover line says “the future of TV” (for better or worse). It’s also about the irony: NBC is making a decision that’s premised on the idea that broadcast TV is no longer the mass medium it was—and yet giving a show to probably the most middle-of-the-road, big-tent, Ed-Sullivan-school performer in TV. It’s mainstream TV for an age in which the “mainstream” is now just another niche.

About that “future of TV” line: cover lines are always meant to be come-hither, but (as I think the article makes clear) it’s not a prediction about whether the Leno show will be a success or whether it will be good or not. We still don’t really know exactly what it will be like, and whatever it does end up like could quickly change. But the fact of the show, and the business pressures that created it—basically, the challenge of fragmentation, digitalization and downsizing that affect all media today—means that, whether The Jay Leno Show hits or bombs, broadcast TV is becoming much different (smaller, cheaper, more cable-like), now at an even faster rate.

As for what the show will be like, I find the two-track advertising model NBC is using for the show to be really interesting. Essentially, you have the TV ads, which target longtime Jay fans with clips of him doing Headlines and Jaywalking. And you have things like the dark-humored movie trailer that showed him abducting a cop and going on the lam after a hit-and-run accident. The message, basically: it’s not going to be just The Tonight Show, earlier. Unless you want The Tonight Show, earlier—then that’s what it’s going to be!

Anyway, after I return from staycation I’ll probably do some follow-up posts, including (if I have time) posting some excerpts from my lengthy interview with Leno that I didn’t get into the story. In the meantime, you can read it, comment and I’ll try to respond when I can. In the meantime, the Tuned In Jrs. wait for no man.