'Hitmakers' talk new Leno show

HRTS panel included Jenji Kohan, Al Jean

NBC's decision to keep Jay Leno with a weeknight 10 p.m. talk show was the talk of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's "Hitmakers" luncheon panel Tuesday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Moderator Peter Tolan, co-creator/exec producer of FX's "Rescue Me," kicked off the lively discussion by asking panelists to give their thoughts on the news and their advice for "turning NBC around."

"Bring back Johnny Carson and put him on at 9 o'clock," joked Al Jean, exec producer of Fox's "The Simpsons."

"I'm wondering if NBC is publicly transforming itself into AM radio," said James Duff, creator/exec producer of TNT's "The Closer." "I thought they were in a coma, so it's a good sign. ... They're actively participating in their own demise."

Jenji Kohan, creator/exec producer of Showtime's "Weeds," joked that the network should bring back the Barbara Mandrell-led variety specials of the early 1980s. NBC last month tried reviving the format with host Rosie O'Donnell to less than stellar results.

Tolan pointed out that giving Leno the 10 p.m. spot will push a lot of dramas out of the primetime lineup, but Duff responded by saying those creators will just end up taking more product to cable.

"There is an appetite for good, quality dramas," he said. "The more that the broadcast networks transform themselves into reality and talk shows, the more that dramas will go to cable and be done properly -- the way they can't on broadcast anymore."

After the panel, Tolan called stripping the Leno show in primetime "yet another time segment/platform that is being taken away."

"As entertaining as Jay is, I think it's too bad that NBC is making choices primarily from a financial consideration vs. putting on the best possible work," he said.

Among other potshots taken at NBC, Tolan and Chuck Lorre, co-creator/exec producer of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory" asked, "Is NBC considered the Big Four anymore?"

Responded Tolan, "Let's say the Big 3.5."

Lorre also addressed the fact that his shows are two of the few multicamera comedies left on TV, saying "it feels like I'm the last man standing in the dodgeball game." He added that the perceived death of the sitcom is spurred by the fact that there are so few shows on which writers can get experience.

"The problem is there's no training ground," he said. "Some called it 'My Two Dads,' but I called it school."

Also during the panel, James Bobin, the British co-creator/executive producer of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords," joked that Britons tend to produce only 10-12 episodes per season because "we're just lazy."

Meanwhile, Tolan wasted no time at the start of the discussion by referencing off-color remarks he made three years ago as an HRTS panelist regarding ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson.

"I suggested that Steve McPherson perform upon himself an anatomical impossibility," Tolan said Tuesday. "If I'd known his physique was not that of a Chinese acrobat's, I would have known this was impossible."

He also couldn't resist taking a shot at NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker.

"I will keep it clean today," Tolan said. "If I screw it up, next I'll be chairman of HRTS. I'll be taking a page from Jeff Zucker's playbook."