Sunday, May 31, 2009
Jay's Last Tonight Show
Last Friday Night was Jay Leno’s last show as host of the Tonight Show. He is leaving the show, but not leaving television.
He will host his own talk show in the fall on NBC as part of their prime time lineup.
For most of the show, it was his usual tepid, but funny performance. It didn’t have anywhere near the sadness and poignancy like Johnny Carson’s last show. It was a faux goodbye and that made the show underwhelming to me. Jay reminisced, had some jokes that missed and did a total suck up job to Conan O’Brien who will replace Jay on Monday night.
The Tonight Show has long been a staple of television going all the way back to the first host, Steve Allen. Steve and Conan have a lot in common. That’s why I don’t think Conan will do a stellar job with the franchise. Cue the Letterman music: Dave, you’re kharma prayers have been answered since they passed you up, picking Conan to succeed you.
Steve Allen was an intellectual, a musician and a brilliantly funny person. But he wasn’t an Everyman. Conan O’Brien is Harvard educated, got his start as a comedy writer and ultimately produced the Simpson’s cartoon show before being thrown on NBC as Letterman’s replacement. He has done well, but Jay Leno has consistently beaten Letterman because of an innate quality that regular people, Middle America relates to.
Jay Leno is real. He’s a real person, not an intellectual, not upper-crust. He likes collecting cars. Not just old cars but muscle cars. He loves to tinker with mechanical things.
He’s got a blue-collar work ethic that is legendary. He loves working and writing, trying out material in front of an audience at a comedy club BEFORE the next Tonight Show.
Plus he was recently hospitalized for an undisclosed illness. The reason he was in the hospital is because he doesn’t have a doctor. The man is a machine and just works. He’s never in the tabloids; he’s not fodder for the gossip sites, he’s just Jay.
Letterman is a dork-who-made good and his sarcasm has a petulant and pretentious tone. O’Brien uses obscure references and is willing to go highbrow more often than not.
Here’s the dirty little secret about late night talk shows. Johnny made it look easy. And it ain’t about being funny… it’s about being the most relatable.
Jay is just Jay, and people like that.
And that’s why he will do well in his new time slot on NBC.