On May 29, 2009, “The Tonight Show”, as an institution, aired its last episode from Burbank California. The sets were broken down and the latest iteration of the late night show moved to Universal City under the tutelage of Conan O’Brien. As had been decided earlier, however, the one relic that would not budge was Jay Leno, the eponymous host of NBC’s newest daily program, “The Jay Leno Show”. After a violet blitzkrieg of summer advertisements, the show premiered last night looking, unfortunately, all-too familiar.
As his former show waned, Mr. Leno only let on a few details about what the new 10pm program would look like. One tidbit was that there would be no desk for him to prop up behind as that was the calling card of The Tonight Show. Apparently, the desk was the only casualty. Mr. Leno now sits in a chair, fully exposed, opposite his guests as they blab on about their personal lives. Whoa, revolutionary.
I had pretty high hopes for “The Jay Leno Show”. You may remember I praised Conan for his work in the 11:30 space, where he is doing exactly what Jay was. The trouble is this whole time slot issue. At 10:00 I want something different that what I want at 11:30, and I really thought Jay could deliver. Nix the monologue, maybe, and do round table jokes about topics of the day. Throw in more sketches, perhaps, that evoke more of an SNL daily. I thought maybe the format of the show would change in a manner that really would force us to reconsider what we expect at 10:00. It hasn’t happened yet.
While I believe that Jay is a real sweetheart, I’ve never found him all that funny. Unaware of the back story, as a kid I found it odd that the gap-toothed hilarious guy on after Johnny Carson didn’t get his job. He has a talented slew of writers who keep things fresh, but his delivery has always been stilted, in my opinion. He doesn’t sell me the punchline; he kinda just lobs it at the wall and sees what sticks.
The premiere’s major moment was an unplanned sit-down interview with Kanye West, who was performing with Jay-Z and Rhianna. Mr. West apologized for an outburst at MTV’s Video Music Awards the night before in which he took the mic from Taylor Swift as she was accepting an award. What transpired was a few minutes of televised horse-shit, schlock, cheap puffery. Call it what you will, it was still what a slimy studio pimp might call “good TV”. After an apology of sorts, Jay asked Kanye what his deceased mother would say about his actions. A hardball question, indeed, but one that has no purpose except to get Mr. West welled up inside and act like a person instead of the inflated celebrity we see all the time. It was very low of Mr. Leno, towards both Mr. West and Ms. Swift, whose moment of glory was once again been overblown by hip-pop’s shining star.
I’m sure that Mr. Leno does not forget his interview with a scandalized Hugh Grant back in 1995. The episode propelled him over Letterman in the late night ratings. Trying to strike oil twice? This isn’t the way to do it. While Leno may be the talk of the town for confronting a pop headline, he will still have to bring the funny every night in order to stay relevant. I give it 3 months before NBC, who ousted deal-maker Ben Silverman, gets wise to the situation and brings some drama back at 10:00.