UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. --PBS opened this month's press tour, but NBC grabbed the headlines. Not that the peacock network will welcome this kind of publicity. Law & Order: SVU star Richard Belzer, who was appearing before critics yesterday at a panel to promote an upcoming PBS salute to George Carlin, ripped his NBC bosses. He branded their recent decision to give Jay Leno the 10 p.m. slot five nights a week is "a tragedy."
The veteran comedian, always outspoken, was careful not to slight his pal Leno. "I'm not denigrating Jay," he said. "But it shows the network is desperate, it's the last gasp of a dying network."
NBC plans to move Leno to weeknights at 10 starting next season. Leno steps down from the Tonight Show at the end of May, handing off to Conan O'Brien, who takes over Tonight June 1.
The five-nights-a-week Leno Show will potentially save NBC $12- to $15 million a week as it opts out of the 10 p.m. drama business. As Belzer points out, this also puts "thousands of people out of work; actors, producers, crew, wardrobe people. It may be good for comedy in a limited way, but it is a terrible, terrible trend for network television..."
Most of NBC's 10 p.m. dramas are not performing well. The big exception is Belzer's show, and he figures that will be moved to 9 p.m. Whether he moves with it may be being debated today at NBC, although Belzer noted he had a contract for a 10th season.
In other press tour news, Sir Ian McKellen was in the house to promote his upcoming production of King Lear on PBS. The celebrated staging airs March 25.
Critics seemed focused on one thing--will McKellen's "Full Monty" nude scene survive the PBS censors? The answer is no. I arrived at press tour too late to witness McKellen's press conference yesterday but go here to read Minnesota Star Tribune critic Neal Justin's lively account of the session.