Leno Flops Back Into ‘Tonight’ Chair
Or refuses to leave, depending on how happy you are to have Jay Leno back as host of NBC's Tonight Show.
Whether Leno is happy as well is hard to judge; all that's clear is he's not particularly straining to keep the job now that he has it again. Monday's opening monologue, supposedly Leno's strong suit, was tired, detached and short on laughs - in other words, typical of the real Leno, rather than the Leno of public-relations imagination.
Anyone who thought Leno might have learned any great lesson from his prime-time debacle, The Jay Leno Show - a show that failed in no small measure because Leno was too hidebound to improve, or even tweak, his act for prime time - was quickly disabused of that notion. Instead, what he has done is sort of solder the two shows together. It's the old Tonight format, complete with that new Tonight desk, all done on the uncomfortably oversized, opposite-of-intimate new Jay Leno stage, with its inlaid test pattern and its eager crew of worshipful audience greeters.
If nothing else, we can be grateful for the return of that desk, which gives Leno a bit of distance from his guests and allows him to read off questions and laugh at jokes without actually having to pretend to engage in conversation. Not that anyone could have gotten much conversation out of his first guest, an astoundingly, annoyingly hyper Jamie Foxx, which is pretty much Foxx's current default position.
"I'm just excited that you're back." ''I'm just excited that you're my first guest." Hey, as long as you're excited.
But how excited can viewers be? There are people who watch and love Leno - about 6.6 million tuned in Monday, but that's likely to drop to the 4 million to 5 million average of his combined late-night and prime-time experiences. Yet even for them, isn't there an air of desperation to this whole, sad project? A going-through-the-motions feeling of retreat instead of advance?
And for those who might wonder, that feeling has nothing to do with some trumped-up war between Leno and Conan O'Brien, or Leno and David Letterman, and all to do with Leno's own failure to re-energize the format. What you have is a show that now simply seems too small for its platform - and sadly adrift. Which won't, of course, stop it from sailing on again tomorrow, just as it did for 17 Leno-led years.
Here's to the next 17. Wake America when they're over.