Thursday, February 6, 2014

Buh-bye, Jay

In 1992, I watched the last two episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.  At 16, I was maybe a bit weird for my cohort; Johnny's show was directed at a much older audience, but I liked the show a lot.  The penultimate episode featured Robin Williams and Bette Midler.  The former was perhaps the best stand-up comedian to appear on the show during Johnny's run, and the latter was his favorite guest.  The last episode simply featured Johnny, reminiscing about the show, with clips.  It was a dignified end to an era.

Tonight is the last night of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.  I no longer watch much late-night TV at all, but when I do, I have one rule:  Not Leno.

I quit watching Leno when NBC booted Conan O'Brien out and re-installed him.  I'm not a big fan of O'Brien, either.  He plays the "I'm not worthy of being here" faux-humility card just a little too much, his delivery is not polished, and the best lines--and the best sense of comedic timing on Conan's show--belong to Andy Richter.  But if you are going to turn over the franchise to a known commodity like Conan, you have to give him a chance to build an audience.  NBC, which was facing (and continues to face) a fall from TV grace, to the point at which it is debatable whether it is the fourth-best or fifth-best broadcast network, didn't think it had the luxury of time, and it terminated the experiment early.  I blame NBC for that, but Leno didn't have to be a part of it, and he has maintained for his whole time at the helm of "Tonight" that he lives on what he makes as a comedian and hasn't touched the NBC money in all that time.

Even though I change the channel when Leno appears, just as a matter of principle, I came to realize that even in the days when I did tune in, it had become a mostly unfunny mechanical exercise.  If it wasn't a "Headlines" night, I rarely laughed, and even then, you can only laugh so hard at yet another Chinese food menu misprint or police blotter entry. 

Leno was once a great comedian, and in the early years--the Johnny years, when Leno was the permanent guest-host--that was enough to cover up the fact that he was a horrible uninteresting interviewer.  But for years now, Leno has been committing the cardinal sin for a comedian.  He's just not funny anymore.

That's OK, of course--it's hard to stay at the top of that game for more than a few years at best--but it's not a reason to tune in.

After 22 years, Leno is hanging it up.  And looking back over that time, I have reached the inescapable conclusion.

It should've been Dave.

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