By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Dec 29, 2009 at 11:00 AM
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Jay Leno was always going to be the big TV story of 2009, whether NBC's gamble of five nights of Leno at 9 p.m. succeeded or failed.

While it hasn't quite failed yet, it's hard to argue that it's not flopping  and driving viewers to watch shows recorded on their DVRs or sending them over the cable shows.

It's also hard to argue that generally lower late news ratings on NBC affiliates -- including Milwaukee's Channel 4 -- aren't due at least partly to Leno.

How long can NBC put up with this? Well, it would be a surprise if the network pulls the plug before the end of this TV season. There's simply nothing else to fill the one-hour slot.

Had NBC's plan worked, we could have seen the beginning of a new model for the broadcast TV networks, almost a throwback to the excitement of live variety shows from the birth of TV.

But the live-to-tape "Jay Leno Show" seems closer to death than life. It seems old and tired and repetitious. From the first show, even Leno hasn't seemed excited about it.

The only barely memorable incident in the show's first three months dates from that first episode in September when Kanye West dropped by just after he interrupted Taylor Swift on the MTV's Video Music Awards. West stuck with his scheduled appearance on the show and Leno "interviewed" him, asking him what his dead mother would have thought of what he'd done.

"Would she be disappointed in this? Would she give you a lecture?"

West then rambled on about not taking time off after her death, as if that was an excuse.

No, Leno's no Larry King or Barbara Walters or even Regis Philbin. If only he was funnier, that wouldn't matter.

Let me confess that I was never a big fan of Leno on "The Tonight Show." And I still think NBC did the right thing by moving Conan O'Brien into the 10:35 p.m. slot. While his overall ratings are lower than Leno's, he is doing a better job with younger viewers that advertisers are looking for.

So I expect O'Brien to be safe behind the desk at "The Tonight Show," despite rumblings from Leno that he would be open to going back to his old job. 

But Leno hasn't reversed the trend of viewers from drifting away from the traditional broadcast networks. The low cost of the show compared to a one-hour drama can't make up for the loss of viewers to NBC affiliates and their flagship newscasts.

The big TV question in 2010 is when NBC will decide to pull the plug on this failed experiment.

Another talker bails: Model turned daytime talker Tyra Banks tells People that she's pulling the plug on her daytime talk show in spring 2010. Her syndicated show airs at 3 and 4 p.m. weekdays on Channel 18.

The most upset person in America is likely Joel McHale, who draws heavily from Banks' show for "The Soup," his weekly look at TV on E!

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.