In a classic example of network synergy, Paul Reiser was invited onto Jay Leno’s show early this week to promote his midseason replacement sitcom, The Paul Reiser Show. There was just one problem – by the time Reiser’s appearance rolled around, his sitcom had already been canceled.
To his credit, Reiser didn’t back out of the booking. He still showed up and tolerated Jay Leno’s “jokes,” even though he no longer had a reason to be on The Tonight Show. However, instead of making a few self-deprecating jokes or playful comments to address the canceled elephant in the room, Reiser did his best to throw NBC under the bus in the pettiest way possible.
Reiser started out by making reference to the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien debacle by saying: “NBC, to my knowledge, they don’t traditionally make bad decisions, have you heard that?”
He later added: “It turns out they said, ‘We enjoy missing you more than actually having you.’”
And then he threw in his kicker: “But I don’t take it personally. When you’re the last-place network, you don’t want to jeopardize that. You’ve found your niche. Stay there. So I get it.”
Now, NBC is an easy punching bag and frankly, it’s for good reason. They were once the best network out there – the king of “Must-see TV” – but they squandered all of those rating away thanks to a series of bad decisions. They are now a very distant fourth place in the ratings. They’ve earned their place as a lightning rod for criticism.
But there’s one problem with Reiser’s strategy – his show was absolutely awful. And even on the last place network where the threshold for success is lower than the other three, his ratings were still so awful that they decided to pull his show after just two weeks. That’s not NBC’s fault – it’s Reiser’s.
It’s not like we’re talking about the critically-acclaimed Lone Star getting yanked off the air after only one episode here. The Paul Reiser Show was doomed from the start. It was nothing but a cheap rip-off of Curb Your Enthusiasm (unapologetically so, even – Larry David had a cameo in the pilot). But Reiser isn’t David – he doesn’t have the same misanthropic personality or comic sensibilities. Plus, instead of improvising the lines with a talented cast who can think on their feet, Reiser’s show was overly-scripted with hammy sitcom clichés. On top of that, the show aired on NBC instead of HBO, which limits what you can get away with.
Now, I suppose you could blame NBC for ever green lighting the show in the first place. And that’s fair – it was a terrible idea. But NBC’s failing was in trusting Reiser to rise above a stolen premise and clichéd writing. Their mistake was in trusting Reiser to be funny. So when Reiser is the one criticizing them, it rings a bit hollow.
What you also need to take into consideration is just how terrible the show did in the ratings. The premiere episode only attracted 3.4 million viewers (compared to the 9.6 million Modern Family had in the same timeslot that night), for a horrible 1.1 rating. According to reports, that is the lowest rating ever for a mid-season replacement show on NBC.
But, as bad as that was, things got even worse the following week when the show lost the bulk of its audience. Episode two of The Paul Reiser Show had just 2.38 million viewers, with a 0.9 rating.
On Leno’s show and in other interviews, Reiser has said that NBC rushed to get the show on the air without properly promoting it. He told the Hollywood Reporter: ‘This was shortest ramp up in the history of television. Literally 20 days ago they said, ‘We’re putting you up,’ and we said, ‘Okay, great.’” But a bad advertising campaign doesn’t really explain a loss of one-third of your audience (a million viewers) in one week. Clearly, the people who gave Reiser’s show a chance were not impressed by what they saw.
And neither was NBC. They decided to yank Reiser’s show in favor of reruns of The Office, which shows you just how little faith they have in its chances to rebound. They didn’t have another show lined up to replace it. They think reruns have a better shot of grabbing ratings at this point. They probably figured it was best to drop the show now before finding out that the audience dropped another million viewers in week three.
I get why Reiser would go into attack mode on Leno’s show. It’s embarrassing to fail so epically on national television, especially when this was supposed to be his big comeback – his follow up to Mad About You.
But it’s time for Reiser to face facts – he’s just not very funny and clearly America is not interested in watching a show with his name attached to it. It’s not them, it’s you, Reiser. So stop taking potshots at the one network foolish and desperate enough to give you a shot at a comeback. Trust me, if they weren’t in fourth place, they never would have given your show a chance.
Now, if you really want to make a comeback by ripping off something that’s already been done before, I think your best bet is to reprise your finest role – annoying guy who gets eaten by an alien. That’s a part I (and I assume the rest of America) will never tire of watching you play.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.