The Tonight Show…

February 4, 2010

So, I’ve been pondering this whole mess that happened in January with Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno about the Tonight Show.  It’s a strange issue, one that people will be talking about for some time.  Basically, around 2004 NBC announced that Conan O’Brien would be taking over the Tonight Show in 2009.  This  happened more or less as expected, with Leno stepping down and getting a new show at 10 PM starting a few months later.  So fastfoward to January 2010.  Leno’s new show is doing horrendous in regards to ratings, with the Tonight Show struggling against the competition of the Late Show and Jimmy Kimmel.  So NBC and Leno decided to push back Conan and everybody else.  Conan called them on that and left the show, with Leno planning to take back the Tonight Show in March.

Now, I’ve been watching a lot of clips on Youtube of this and have to say it is a class A clusterfuck.  A comedian like Leno is not going to work in primetime on a nightly basis, network executives and people knowledgeable about such things knew this from the start.  So the Tonight Show has a doomed to fail comedy program leading it in?  Apparently NBC was saving something like $13 million per week with Jay Leno doing a program rather than having dramas that would actually get viewers and keep their affiliates in business.  Let’s just come out and say it: nobody really watches NBC anymore.  Beyond the Office and Law and Order, there’s just nothing there.  I think it’s a fundamental fact that for a show to do well, you need quality programming leading it in.

So that about covers the business side of this.  If you get down to it, Jay Leno is a highly questionable character at this point.  There is a sizable contingent of comedians who do not like or trust him.  I mean, think about it:  In 1992 he took over the Tonight Show amid controversy.  There were a great many people who thought it should have been David Letterman, including the long-time host of the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson.  In addition to that, Letterman and Howard Stern have both strongly maintained that Leno stole the concepts from them, respectively the Headlines and Jay Walking segments.  And during the Writers’ Strike he may have broken ranks with his fellows.  Then we get to this recent fiasco…

Now, if I really tried I could come up with a few more reasons why Jay Leno is of questionable character.  But that doesn’t seem all that necessary.  You get down to the truth of it: Leno just is not that funny and comes across as an ass.  I’ve been watching clips of all the late night guys, and I’ve seen the key to it: side kicks.  Carson had Ed McMahon, Letterman has Paul Schaffer and a host of characters, Conan O’Brien had Andy Richter and Max Weinberg and the whole band… who usually works with Jay Leno?  I think that’s what Jay Leno really lacks.  I don’t think he plays well off of other people and his shows lack the camaraderie of those other tandems.  I don’t think you should underestimate the effect that a McMahon or a Schaffer or a Ricter will have.

But those are just my thoughts on the matter.  I think the way it was handled, there is and will be a lot of negative energy associated with the Tonight Show.  I think the lack of strong lead-in shows and the negative energy Leno is bringing with him will ultimately destroy the Tonight Show.  Point is, that was the wrong way for Leno and NBC to handle it.

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