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Leno to End His "Tonight Show" Run With a Surprise

Set your DVRs or VCRs to Channel 2 at 11:35 tonight when Jay Leno ends his 17-year run on "The Tonight Show." He has promised a surprise at show's end so it would be advisable to record Jimmy Fallon's show, too, just in case "Tonight" goes on a few extra minutes.

Western New Yorkers haven't exactly flocked to their sets in Leno's last week. Thursday night's semifinal featuring Billy Crystal had a 6.0 rating, which represents 6 percent of area households. The first four nights of the final week averaged a 5.7 rating, which is close to the 5.3 he averaged during the May sweeps.

A couple of borderline offensive jokes in Leno's opening monologue Thursday — including one about Michael Jackson — led to a few boos from the audience, which worked to the host's advantage.

"I got one day left," said Leno. "Ooh, I'm scared." 

Crystal's appearance was highlighted by an Oscar-like medley to Leno that focused on the host's chin, car collection and hair and ended with a 12-person chorus dancing to the theme from "The Jeffersons" and singing that focused on his move to 10 p.m. weekdays this fall.

Instead of "Moving on Up," Crystal sang "you're movin' on down, down to primetime, you're giving a new time slot a try."

It wasn't up to Crystal's Oscar openings when he was the host, but it was amusing. Tonight, Conan O'Brien, who takes over 'Tonight" on Monday is Jay's guest and James Taylor is the musical performer.

What did you think of Crystal's performance Thursday? And do you plan on watching the finale tonight?

Alan Pergament

Channel 2 News Being Held Accountable

My column today about the dramatic ratings decline at Channel 2 News at 6 a.m and 5 p.m. during the May ratings period already has led a couple of emailers to speculate on the causes.

The writers feel that the station's constant trumpeting of its mission to "ask the tough questions" and "hold people accountable" has become "tiresome" and "shallow."

In other words, they believe Channel 2's act has worn thin.

Jim Toellner, the station's general manager, partly attributed the 5 p.m. losses to a poor lead-in from "Ellen" and said personnel changes led to instability in the morning. He added NBC's weak prime time has hurt the station's news numbers. He also said things have gone better since the May sweeps ended.

What do you think? Has the message grown tired or is the decline the product of a poor lead-in, morning personnel changes and a weak NBC?

-- Alan Pergament


"American Idol" Slips on Local Ratings Charts

Not even an enhanced Bikini Girl could help this season's two-hour finale of "American Idol" register a local rating close to the 2008 finale.

Wednesday's finale had a 16.3 rating on WUTV, representing 16.3 percent of area households. The number of people who time-shifted the program rather than see Kris Allen be declared the winner over Adam Lambert live could add a few ratings points.

However, even the added time-shift viewers are unlikely to mean the rating Wednesday will approach the 21.2 rating that the battle of the Davids had a year ago.

Despite the decline, you have to be impressed by a 16.3 rating for a show that only has two minutes of suspense when the winner is declared at the end.

Nick Magnini, Channel 29's general manager, acknowledged the ratings slippage, but added:"It still is a dominant show. I'll take a 16.3 any day."

The question now is whether Allen's surprising victory over a clearly more talented Lambert will impact the credibility and popularity of the show next season.

I didn't tune in that often, but saw enough during the season to realize that Allen wasn't in Lambert's class as a singer or performer. But I have to agree with those who believe Allen's cuteness factor was more likely to get the votes of adoring young females who are experts at speedy text messaging.

I wouldn't go see him at a free concert in Delaware Park.

Though the "Idol" judges constantly say the show is a "singing competition," it really becomes a popularity contest at the end and Allen got more votes for being Mr. Congeniality. 

-- Alan Pergament

The Mentalist Is On the Move to Thursday

CBS appears to be taking a minor risk this when it moves this season's one new hit series, "The Mentalist," from 9 p.m. Tuesday to 10 p.m. Thursday this fall.

That means Simon Baker series, which has been a huge hit in Western New York, will compete with ABC's popular "Private Practice" and Jay Leno's new show on NBC.

CBS has a few good reasons for making the move. The new "NCIS" spinoff will now follow the popular Mark Harmon original in the old "Mentalist" time slot to give CBS a two-hour "NCIS" block.

"The Mentalist" also seems compatible with its new lead-in, the popular "CSI."

But this being TV, the real reason is money. Thursday night is one of the most important advertiser nights of the week, which is why "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI" were moved to that night after premiering on other nights.

If "The Mentalist" succeeds on Thursday, it will be financially beneficial to CBS.

But the risk is that the move may upset viewers who have grown to love "The Mentalist" on Tuesdays.

In another interesting CBS move, it picked up "Medium" off of waivers from NBC and plans to run at 9 p.m. Friday after "Ghost Whisperer."

The cancellations of the aging "Without a Trace" and "The Unit" really were no surprise.

What do you think of the move of "The Mentalist," the acquisition of "Medium" and the cancellations?

 -- Alan Pergament

Earl Makes The Dreaded Cancellation List

Unfortunately for fans of "My Name is Earl," NBC today put it on the list of canceled shows along with "Medium" (which got a reprieve today when CBS picked it up to run at 9 p.m. Friday).

"Chuck," which had been on the bubble, was renewed for after midseason and NBC officials said its budget won't be cut.

There will be months to discuss the new shows on NBC coming this fall. The big news is what is going to be missing, delayed or moved.

Fans of "Friday Night Lights," which premieres on DirecTV, will have to wait until the summer of 2010 to see new episodes on NBC.

"Law & Order" got a 20th season and will tie "Gunsmoke" as prime time's longest-running drama but is moving to low-rated Friday nights at 8 p.m. "Southland" was renewed despite low ratings, but will air at 9 p.m. Fridays, another difficult time slot.

"Heroes" will air an hour earlier at 8 p.m. Monday, where "Chuck" has been running.

And "30 Rock," the Tina Fey show that gets more awards and critical acclaim than viewers, will be slightly delayed before it returns next fall. 

What do you think of the cancellation of "Earl" and "Medium" and NBC's other schedulng plans?

-- Alan Pergament

Time for Time Warner and NFL Network to Make Deal

The National Football League announced a deal today with the nation's largest cable operator, Comcast, that will result in the NFL Network being carried on its digital classic level by Aug. 1.

The channel has been on a sports package.

Why should this matter to Western New Yorkers?

Because there is widespread speculation that the NFL will next focus on making a national deal with the nation's second largest cable operator, Time Warner, which is the primary cable operator in Western New York.

The NFL Network had been carried here in Adelphia's days, but was dropped when Time Warner took over.

Of course, this would be a good year for the NFL Network to arrive back in Buffalo since the network is scheduled to carry a Bills regular season game with the New York Jets on Dec. 3. The game will air here on one of the local TV affiliates, but viewers will need the NFL Network to see the week-long build up to the game.

Have you missed NFL Network since it was dropped by Time Warner?

-- Alan Pergament

Terrell Owens Sets First Record in Buffalo

If I had been Channel 7 News, I would have heavily promoted Terrell Owens' guest appearance as a sports anchor on the 6 p.m. news Monday rather than kept it a surprise.

If it had been promoted, viewership would have been much higher.

The charismatic Owens was quite impressive and funny reading his brief report on his first practice day with the Buffalo Bills.

"The top story in sports tonight is 'I'm here,'" said Owens with a huge smile. After showing some practice footage, Owens added: "Now let's hear what I had to say after practice."

The audience inside Channel 7's studio laughed loudly. By my unofficial count, Owens comically said the word "I" seven times in one minute, which surely is a local sportscast record.

As one who unsuccessfully tried to anchor a sports report a while back, I was even more impressed by Owens' on-air performance than I might have been if I hadn't tried it myself.

There will be much more on the extensive local TV coverage of Owens in Wednesday's edition of The Buffalo News. What did you think of Owens work as an anchor? And what have you thought about the TV coverage of the Bills' newest star so far?

-- Alan Pergament

Grey's Anatomy Finale is Amazing

I was absolutely amazed at the end of the two-hour finale of "Grey's Anatomy" Thursday that suggested Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) and George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) may have died.

Oh, I wasn't that amazed at the death suggestions, which were excellent cliff-hangers that I didn't see coming.

I was more amazed in this Internet world that there hadn't been much of any speculation leaking out about the ending.

Sure, there had been speculation that Heigl and Knight would be leaving the show. Some of it even came from fellow cast members. But how their characters might leave the show was a carefully-guarded secret. It makes you wonder if the earlier speculation about the actors leaving the show was planted misinformation.  

It also will be amazing if the fates of the characters aren't revealed before the show returns in the fall since Heigl and Knight presumably would be looking for other roles if they aren't doing "Grey's" next season.

My guess would be that Izzie comes back from the dead and George doesn't. The character of George, who heroically jumped in front of a bus to save a woman's life and had his face mangled beyond recognition, had reached a dead end anyway. But Izzie's recovery from brain cancer surgery could lead to a rich story line in the fall.

However, it might be better creatively for the show if Izzie dies, too. That would have repercussions for her brain surgeon, Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), who already this season has had to deal with not being a perfect doctor. 

Another sub-plot -- the postponed wedding of Derek and Meredith (Ellen Pompeo)  -- wasn't that surprising because the two patient crises didn't allow creator-writer Shonda Rhimes enough time to  marry them. Surprisingly, she told Entertainment Weekly today that she thinks that Derek and Meredith consider the post-it wedding Thursday an "official wedding."   

What did you think of the finale? Did you see it coming? And do you think Izzie will survive? George? Both? Neither?

-- Alan Pergament 

Jay Leno Works Overtime

It is only two weeks before Jay Leno signs off "The Tonight Show" so today he held what was supposed to be a 45-minute conference call with the nation's television critics.

The call went more than an hour, securing Leno's reputation as an accommodating, media-friendly TV host.

There wasn't much news to come out of the session, except for the announcement that his replacement, Conan O'Brien, will be the final guest on May 29, James Taylor will be the musical guest that night and there is "something really unusual and different" planned on the final show.

"It is something really out of left field that we're going to end on," said Leno. "It's something really personal and really unusual... It has to do with our show and our staff. I think it will make people smile."

He said he asked Taylor last year to be on the final show because he  "was the last thing" that Leno heard when he left Boston in the early 1970s to go to Hollywood. 

I didn't get to ask a question until an hour into the call. My initial question was whether he feels he gets enough respect from Emmy voters and critics considering his strong ratings.

He gave a two-minute answer that essentially boiled down to you can't get everything and "be happy with what you have."

Then I asked the host if he heard the inappropriate, casual remark about the Special Olympics that President Obama made during a "Tonight Show" appearance weeks ago while talking about his bowling improvement. It happened so fast I thought Leno might not have heard it.

"I heard it," said Leno. "Ut, oh, my immediate thing is 'oh, we can edit that out.' Then I went, 'no it's the president, you can't edit anything out. Everything you say is being transcribed around the world.' I said that's going to cause him some problems... He just kind of threw a line out. It wasn't meant that way. You have to look at people's hearts and see what they mean. I knew he didn't mean it that way." 

There will be much more about Leno and his reflections after 17 years on "The Tonight Show" coming up in The Buffalo News before his final show.

You can help me out by answering the following questions: Will you miss him in late night? Will you watch his new 10 p.m. weekday program on NBC next fall? And what are your favorite Leno memories?

-- Alan Pergament


The Story of Jacob on Lost

Since ABC's "Lost" is one of the most heavily time-shifted series on television, I waited a day to fully address Wednesday night's intriguing and slow-building two-hour season finale.

The episode had a good mix of sweet, romantic, absurdly violent and perplexing moments but the ending was predictable. In short, the 2009 finale wasn't as mind-blowing as the 2008 finale.

It only had about a 6.2 rating on Channel 7 and finished third in its time slot. But the rating is deceptive since so many fans watch it a day or two later on DVRs or in some other time-shifting way.

I'm glad I watched and DVRed it so I could play back the dialogue in one of the early scenes between two new characters on the beach waiting for a ship to come in. They looked like friends, but the dialogue between them suggested otherwise.

"You have any idea how much I want to kill you," asked one character. "One of these days I'm going to find a loophole."

Then the character addressed the guy he wants to kill as the mysterious Jacob, who had been talked about but not seen for years.

Near the end of the finale, a character who looks like Locke but who we learned isn't Locke appeared again.

"You found your loophole," Jacob told him. Clearly, that suggests it was the other guy on the beach. 

"And you have no idea what I've gone through to be here," replied the Locke lookalike before he persuaded Ben (Michael Emerson) to kill Jacob.

Jacob, who throughout the episode was shown meeting all the unsuspecting key characters who came to the island after an airplane crash, said "they're coming" before dying.

Wow, a payoff in the same episode. It usually takes several episodes or years for anything to pay off in this exasperating and entertaining series.

Of course, the big event in the finale concerned Jack's (Matthew Fox) attempt in 1977 to set off a hydrogen bomb to change the course of history for all the characters. I think you have to be an expert in electromagnetic field to understand the plot line.

In any event, with the help of self-sacrificing and presumably now dead Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), Jack was seemingly able to accomplish the mission in the explosive ending. We just won't know until next season -- the final one -- if Jack is going to achieve what he thinks he'll achieve with the bomb explosion.

In order to get in position to accomplish his mission, Jack and his friends had to engage in a couple of shootouts with rivals who had incredibly bad aim. That was one of the episode's low points. One of the minor high points was a warm scene between senior citizen dropouts Bernard and Rose, whose whereabouts had been unknown. 

This being "Lost," there were more questions that answers. We first met Jacob sitting near what appeared to be a large Egyptian Sphinx. It was a good visual. I don't know if this means anything but Ben was upset at Jacob for allowing the Locke lookalike special handling as if he was Moses.

That made me wonder if the writers were dropping in a Biblical clue about the connection between Jacob and Moses. After doing a little research, I still don't have a clue how much a role religion plays in this series' game plan.

But that's usually true about "Lost," the most exasperating, interesting show on television.

What did you think of the finale? And do you have any clue about where it will go in 2010 when we're told the season will have the title "Destiny Found"?

- Alan Pergament


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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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