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Leno, Late Night and the DVR Future

17 Sep, 2009 By: John Latchem

As Jerry Seinfeld noted on the Monday debut of “The Jay Leno Show,” Leno and Conan O’Brien had their goodbye shows and now are back. O’Brien of course moved from “Late Night” to take over “The Tonight Show” from Leno, who moved to 10 p.m. weekdays.

Seinfeld quipped that when he left his show, he didn’t come back a few months later doing the same thing. (The timing of his statement is somewhat ironic considering the upcoming “Seinfeld” reunion on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”)

The gag, of course, is funny in the context of the traditional TV model, where many pundits are watching with anticipation to see how a late-night talk show performs in primetime.

From the perspective of my DVR, I have to ask: Why does it matter?

If I’m time-shifting the programs, it doesn’t matter when they are supposed to be on, and thus it doesn’t matter if someone left one show to take over another. Basically, just the titles are different.

A year ago, I could watch Leno, then I could watch Conan. I can still do that. DVR just removes the usual expectations of when the shows air. So Leno is on at 10. If I’m watching it at 6:30 p.m. the next day, it still seems like his old show.

Conan’s “Tonight Show” isn’t too different in tone from his “Late Night,” but I’ve got to say, as a long-time fan, something seems off, as if Conan is trying to hard to be a bit more epic to match his new time slot. It’s almost like the stage is too big for his brand of comedy, which feels like it would be more at home in a more intimate club-like atmosphere, which his old show seemed to provide.

But these are the necessities of old-school network politics, which focused on time-slots and competition for ad-revenue. As DVR, and eventually VOD, becomes more prevalent in the home, these concerns will go away. Someone like Conan wouldn’t have to worry about time slots or ratings drops. Talented people would just have their own channels. We’re already seeing on Hulu and YouTube how comedy shows are being broken down into their particular segments for easy Web distribution.

Will DVR and VOD mean the end of the comedy/variety show as we know it? Probably not completely. But it will put more emphasis on who is doing the performing, not when and where.

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