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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Has Jay Leno’s move to primetime been bad for television — or the worst thing ever for television? The most universally panned show since “Cop Rock” has, since its autumn debut, been a critical punching bag and a ratings disappointment. Nevertheless, Leno had generally been assumed untouchable. A show with timely, “DVR proof” content every night could skate by on relatively low viewership and still be a win for the network. Or so we thought.
Then Thursday, a storm of rumors about the fate of Leno’s show – and, hot on its heels, that of the ratings-challenged Conan O’Brien — broke out. Was NBC yanking Leno altogether? Sending him back to late night and ditching the infinitely more entertaining Conan? Or would it, as the current speculation goes, split the difference and cobble together a new late-night lineup featuring truncated versions of both shows? Thursday night, NBC issued the dry statement that they were “committed to keeping Conan O’Brien on NBC. He is a valued part of our late-night line-up, as he has been for more than 16 years and is one of the most respected entertainers on television.”
But saying they’re committed to O’Brien doesn’t mean they’re keeping his show intact. Doesn’t that sound a little less like “committed” and a little more like “downgraded”? Oh Conan, I’ve been in that relationship.
I admit I usually only catch Leno when it’s forced upon me – it’s a staple of New York City cab monitors that play a constant reel of blather, turning that taxi ride back home into a mobile version of Guantanamo Bay. And watching Leno’s show from the comfort of my couch last night, I remembered why I always avoided it.
In his monologue, Leno offered a quick attempt to dispatch the elephant in the room by making light of the hoopla. “As you may have heard, there is a rumor floating around that we were canceled. I heard it coming in this morning on the radio. So far, no one has said anything to me,” he said, interesting given word I got from an entertainment journalist that he was in meetings with the network yesterday. “What does NBC stand for?” he cracked. “Never believe your contract.” (It’s a line eagle-eared bloggers noted had more sting the first time Leno reportedly used it – in 1992.) The network immediately and conspicuously promoted the routine as its “clip of the day.”
It went downhill from there. Leno then moved on to a sketch about his shrill, silver-pompadoured family that was so excruciating I found myself longing for the George Lopez Show.
All of which leads to the question – why does a show so lame exist at all? Well, with one set, no actors and what often looks like no writers, it’s so relatively cheap to produce it makes reality TV extravagant. It’s also still influential. Leno’s is the softest of softball venues, making it the go-to spot for a controversial celebrity; it’s the place you go when a sit-down with Billy Bush might be too intense. After his now-infamous VMA rant, Kanye West had his first interview on Leno, and Chris Rock appeared last fall to drop a scathing, brilliant indictment of Roman Polanski. And because the show’s also so desperate for content, Leno devotes a large portion of airtime to other comics, giving up-and-coming performers an almost unprecedented platform (would that such a magnanimous break were bestowed more often on worthier talent). So despite the show’s mediocrity, as one well-known standup comic – who’s done the late-night rounds many times — told me yesterday, comedians “care about Leno because he’s in primetime. Huge audience.”
Huge to someone who can appreciate a shot at 10pm exposure, not so huge for what was to be a network’s great hope. Is it just possible that not enough Americans – especially those in the desirable having-enough-money-to-buy-things demographic , require more of their evening’s entertainment than Snookie from “Jersey Shore” ruminating on her New Year’s Eve:
Or people singing about cupcakes?
So while the fate – and eventual time slot – of the show remain unknown today, NBC might do well to remember that if we want banality, we already have Twitter. If NBC does punt Leno back to late night, imagine the hijinx of a network scrambling to fill those five hours of primetime again, and the mirth coming from the direction of the other networks. Leno may never stop sucking, but the corporate flusterfest surrounding him may be the most amusing thing to happen to his show yet.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)