Jay Leno opens up to Oprah Winfrey today on her show (WMAZ, 4 p.m.; check local listings in other areas).
One might say Leno "won" the late-night war in the sense that he will be returning to "The Tonight Show" beginning March 1, but truth be told, no one really won.
Not Leno, whose reputation as a nice guy took a beating and who flopped at the 10 p.m. timeslot so badly that Entertainment Weekly called it the worst move ever on TV.
Not Conan O'Brien, who was forced to leave "The Tonight Show," his dream job, after seven months and who doesn't have a new gig lined up yet for when his contract runs out Sept. 1.
Yes, Conan absolutely killed in the ratings over the past couple of weeks and is seen as the victim in all this, but to have such a short, struggling stint on "The Tonight Show" after the legendary careers of Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, and yes, even Leno, has to be a blow to his pride.
Conan's sign-off Friday was well-done, with a hilarious "exit interview" conducted by Steve Carell, an appearance by Tom Hanks, and musical numbers from Neil Young doing "Long May You Run" and Will Ferrell covering "Freebird." Conan's heartfelt tribute, especially his thanks to NBC, was especially poignant.
Ratings-wise, his final show had the best 18-49 numbers of anything Friday, including primetime.
The biggest loser (no pun intended) is NBC, which originally made the move to A) keep both Leno and Conan with the network, and B) to save money by producing more "cost-effective" programming.
One wonders how much money NBC has lost through this disaster. Not only are they paying Leno big bucks, they gave Conan a $45 million buyout for he and his crew. Surely between the money they are paying both men, the network could have produced a couple of dramas or even reality shows that would have produced better ratings.
Creatively, NBC is left with a five-hour weekly hole to fill -- which will drive up costs as the network hurries new programming into production for after the Olympics -- plus they are getting killed in ad revenue, which has slowly been eroding from network TV as a whole. Advertisers are wary of NBC these days, and really, who can blame them?
At some point, NBC will dig itself out of this hole. All of the networks, including NBC in the late '70s and early '80s, have dry stretches at some point. In 2003, ABC couldn't get many viewers, then launched "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" in 2004.
When NBC was under the direction of Brandon Tartikoff (and later, Grant Tinker), the network got back on track when it launched "Cosby," followed by a string of other successes, including owning Thursday nights for more than a decade.
What NBC needs is a new Tartikoff or Tinker to be running things, not the gigantic train wreck that is Jeff Zucker, who somehow manages to keep getting promoted through the networks falling numbers over the past several years.
It's not like the network of such classics as "Cheers," "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "ER" is ever going to go away. All it takes is programmers clever enough to find out what the next "Seinfeld" or "Friends" is going to be. On the Universal lot, there's obviously some talented executives -- look at the surfeit of interesting programming produced by its sister networks USA, SyFy and Bravo. They brought in Jeff Gaspin from that side of the lot to run NBC, but with Zucker still as the head honcho.
Will Gaspin prove to be a new Tartikoff? Only time will tell, but he made the choice to abandon the 10 p.m. disaster. Still, it will be some time before NBC is once again "proud as a peacock."
'BETTY' CANCELLED: Meanwhile, ABC announced it's pulling the plug on "Ugly Betty," which will end in eight episodes with its storylines wrapped up. "Betty" had fallen a great deal in terms of quality since it began, but its initial season was a great mix of comedy and drama, the sort of innovative programming that ABC seems to routinely find.
THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Sadly, one cannot call ABC's new drama "The Deep End" (ABC, 8 p.m.) innovative, since everything about it is trite, predictable and silly. Built to appeal to the "Grey's Anatomy" fan base, I don't see it attracting and retaining many of those viewers.
CBS airs "Live For the Moment" at 8 p.m., in which host Jeff Probst helps a man stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease fulfill some wishes, including flying in a fighter jet and watching a shuttle launch with Buzz Aldrin.
With NBC also airing reruns, only the CW and Fox deliver a night of new episodes. On the former, the highlight is "Supernatural" at 9 p.m., in which Sam switches bodies with a teen nerd. It follows "The Vampire Diaries."
Fox airs new episodes of "Bones" and "Fringe," beginning at 8 p.m.
On cable, "Burn Notice" (USA, 10 p.m.) is new as Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) hunts a pedophile. Also new is "Archer" (FX, 10 p.m.) with guest voice Jeffrey Tambor.
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