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As Jay Leno retakes Tonight Show tonight, NBC faces historic identity crisis



Jay-leno-time-magazine-100 If Jay Leno is still the future of television, what does that mean now?

As I noted Sunday in a column for our Floridian section, I think it means that his network home NBC is struggling through a historic identity crisis -- where the home of Must See TV has turned into the home of nothing special. And their struggle to keep a crowd only highlights the issues every network faces in today's DVR-fed, Twitter-fast media environment.

Okay, that's a bit exagerrated. NBC still provides a home for some of the funniest comedies on television, including 30 Rock and The Office.

Old warhorses Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU still offer a reliable bit of blood and crime for those who find CSI too lighthearted. And Biggest Loser still thrills those who love to see a redemption tale wrapped in lots of extreme exercise and puking. But the days when NBC had a stranglehold on urbane comedy and forward-looking, adult dramas is long past.

And as critics have noted for years, the executives at the top of the business seem better at scheduling innovations -- like, say, moving a former late night host to 10 p.m. -- than finding new shows to galvanize an audience the way The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Friends and ER did once upon a time.

Even executives at NBC, while talking up the spate of shows they've pulled together to fill holes created by yanking The Jay Leno Show from 10 p.m., admit their real goal is to find a new identity this fall -- hopefully inspired by a hit or two.

Given that the last time they were this low, shows like Supertrain and Diff'rent Strokes gave way to Hill Street Blues, Cheers and Cosby (with the A-Team thrown in to keep things from getting too high-falutin'), maybe there's hope left for the future of the Peacock Network.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:05pm]


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