Friday, February 07, 2014
I've always liked Jay Leno, and there was a time when I thought he was the best stand-up comedian around. But I was never a huge fan of his Tonight Show, because he never really seemed to develop a knack for bringing out the best in his guests, and because he spent such an inordinate amount of time on "silly stuff" like filmed videos and the like. The one exception was "Headlines," which nearly always made me laugh - to the point where I'd want to write at least a couple of them down to share the following morning.
The botched situation in 2009-10 between Leno and Conan O'Brien will probably always be a black spot on his resume, but looking at it now the blame seems much better assigned to NBC then it does to Leno. They a) made a very successful Leno leave before he wanted to, b) failed to provide O'Brien with the support and time needed to develop his own version of the show, c) compounded the problem by bringing Leno back to do what was essentially "The Tonight Show" at 10 p.m., creating a situation where what ultimately happened was inevitable - both shows failed, and NBC decided that it needed Leno on board more than it needed Conan. So yeah, NBC really screwed the pooch on that one, but I'm not sure that Conan's bitterness towards Leno (which still seems to be there, based on his joke last night - a funny joke, I might add) is properly directed. Leno still wanted to work and NBC wanted the best of both worlds by keeping him, and I'm not sure Leno "owed" Conan anything. Whatever; it doesn't really matter now. Everybody involved made a lot of money, and did pretty well for themselves.
So now the questions become - how long will it be before Jay makes an appearance on Dave's show? I predict it will happen within the next three months. Will Jimmy Fallon succeed where Conan O'Brien could not? I predict he will. Fallon's show is currently my favorite of the late night offerings, mostly because he - almost alone among his contemporaries - seems to actually have fun at work. And that makes all the difference.
But Jay deserves a fond farewell - he clearly could have kept going; his show was successful and his work ethic never wavered. For what he's done (and clearly he's not done yet), he deserves a spot in the modern comedy pantheon.