Early major market ratings reports from Nielsen, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter, show more people still turned to Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien — without striking writers — than to David Letterman and Craig Ferguson, who returned with a new contract with the WGA. Story here.
As I wrote yesterday, I firmly believe that some viewers wanted to see whether Leno and Conan’s shows would be train wrecks without the writers. I also suspect that many viewers don’t have any stake in the Writers Guild and its negotiations. They don’t know any writers. They don’t think about the power and profits from the studios and producers. It’s like a sports strike. They just want their sport back. And if the ticket prices go up, the parking costs spiral, the ballpark soda and beer costs double-digits, the fans continue to pay up and feed the beast. Sure, a few may boycott. But the protesting few don’t add up to a tangible amount that forces the powers-that-be to end their madness, or their greed. People who watch Leno, for the most part, would continue to watch Leno the minute he’s back on the air. That he returned to TV and wrote a monologue clearly does so much more harm to the writers and to the efforts of the WGA than any amount of savory treats Leno handed out on the picket lines in November or December. Conan, in a similarly tricky spot, at least kept his beard as a show of support and also made the striking writers an issue throughout his broadcast last night. For Leno, it was all about him. Look at poor Leno, "one man against a monologue" against CBS. Look at happy Leno, re-energized by writing fresh jokes for that monologue. Argh.
I can understand why people watched the writerless NBC late-night shows. Heck, I DVR’d them myself to see what happened. But that doesn’t make it right. It’s all such bitter madness. All for the same reason that shows up on an elementary student’s report card checklist: Can you play well with others? In show business as in sports, the answer once again seems to be: It doesn’t matter. People will come. People will tune in. People will pay. At what cost? And to whom?