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Former 'Letterman' Writer on Execs' Late-Night Strategy: 'Get Me Anyone Named Jimmy!'

THR Markoe Illustration - P 2013
Illustration by: Kyle Hilton
Merrill Markoe

Emmy winner Merrill Markoe imagines the closed-door meetings at NBC and CBS.

This story first appeared in the April 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

As NBC slashes-and-burns its way through another changing of the late-night guard, the question once again is: Why must it be done with so little finesse and discretion? The answer is that there has never, in the history of the medium, been a kinder, gentler time in programming. Anyone who has worked in television will tell you stories of how they learned they were fired by reading it in a gossip column while standing in line to buy Maalox. The behavior of NBC can best be explained by taking the time to listen to the special logic of executive programmers -- highly stressed people trying desperately to hang on to their jobs while being oversupplied with incomprehensible statistics.

STORY: The War on Jay Leno

NBC Exec 1: Looking at our late-night part, the Jay Leno ratings continue to be static. Good news is, Jimmy Fallon's ratings are up!

NBC Exec 2: Do you think it's because ABC moved Jimmy Kimmel to 11:35?

NBC Exec 1: Yes. We're going to need a Jimmy to stay competitive. Last time around, I think the hard "C" in Conan worked against us. Hard consonants are old-school. Millennials like a soft "J." That was working for Leno. But times change. Now it has to be a full "Jimmy" or nothing.

NBC Exec 2: Emily! Google "men named Jimmy" and "funny." We need to start figuring out how to fill Fallon's old slot.

STORY: 'Tonight Show' Writer Offers 4 Reasons Why NBC Should Keep Jay Leno (Guest Column)

Meanwhile, across town at CBS ...

CBS Exec 1: If the mandate is Jimmy, our options are clear. We can take a chance on a newer white male Jimmy, like Jimmy Pardo. But he's totally untested in this daypart.

CBS Exec 2: Or try someone the audience knows a little better. Like Jim Gaffigan.

CBS Exec 1: He's a Jim. Not the same thing at all.

CBS Exec 2: We could try to think outside the box with someone like Amy Poehler. Maybe it's possible to get her to skew more Jimmy.

CBS Exec 1: Or refresh the show we already have. Add a new set then retitle it, Late Show With Dave "Jimmy" Letterman.

CBS Exec 2: "JimmyDave" would work better in the heartland.

CBS Exec 1: I completely agree. As long as you're the one who takes the meeting to tell him.