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TV Review: The Jay Leno Show

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On Monday night, NBC unveiled the biggest risk of the 2009 television season – Jay Leno. Leno may have been hugely successful for well over a decade on The Tonight Show, but giving him an hour a night, every night Monday through Friday or, roughly 23 percent of their primetime schedule, is a huge risk. But, was it any good?

Well, if you liked Leno's Tonight Show (and many people did) then you probably will like The Jay Leno Show. As much as NBC and Leno have said that it wouldn't be the same program, it was close enough so as to not make much of a difference.

The show started off with Jay coming out and greeting fans who rushed the stage and then he quickly went into a monologue about everything that had been happening since he was off the air. Or, in other words, it was the exact sort of thing Jay did on The Tonight Show. Later in the show, he even did a "Headlines" segment; NBC had already made it clear that "Headlines" would be a part of the new show, and while it has been a popular segment, it in no way helped differentiate the new show from the old show.

Even Jerry Seinfeld, Leno's first guest, joked about the new show being essentially the old show continued. It is true that the interview with Seinfeld wasn't conducted with Leno behind a desk as it would have been on the old Jay Lenoshow, but even Leno wasn't foolish enough to point out that small difference. The interview was a good one, and featured a surprise appearance (via satellite) from Oprah. The conversation was even cleverly steered towards marriage and marriage strife, although the conversation didn't actually get to mentioning Seinfeld's new NBC show, The Marriage Ref, but it did plant the seed for when that show does premiere after the Winter Olympics.

The funniest bit of the night might have been the start of Leno's fake interview with Barack Obama. The piece featured Leno in one shot asking a question and Obama in another, clearly answering a different question from a different interviewer. Much like a taped segment which featured Dan Finnerty (The Hangover) trying to sing to people at a car wash, the Obama piece, which started off funny, petered out by the end.

As promised, the show also featured a more "newsy" aspect, with Leno interviewing Kanye West about West's outburst at the VMAs the night before. West said that he felt bad and apologized for his actions, which West said he realized were wrong as soon as he returned the microphone to Taylor Swift. Leno proceeded to ask what West's mom would have thought of his actions. In what was almost certainly the most true moment of the interview, West failed to have an immediate answer and became quite emotional.

It was at that point that the show was at its best, and perhaps also its most awkward. West eventually recovered and then sidestepped the question, but in that moment, Leno clearly actually forced West to think about what he'd done rather than West simply stating that he was wrong. Leno taking a paternal stance to West was unquestionably odd, and one can't really see Leno having taken the next step and grounding West for his actions, but it did show Leno's desire to ask somewhat tougher, albeit awkward, questions.

In the end, the question still remains as to whether or not a primetime version of The Tonight Show airing five days a week can possibly be successful. It seems almost certain that the show will live and die by the guests on it from day-to-day, but as a primetime platform to promote music, television, and all other manner of things it does seem a good one. It will be very interesting to revisit the series as well as both its and the network's success in six months to a year.

The Jay Leno Show airs Monday thru Friday on NBC at 10pm.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Josh Hathaway

    I understand why they tried to run from The Tonight Show but they probably would have been better off to not. Leno has his shtick and you either appreciate it or you don’t. Market the program for what it is and see if people will play along. I’m interested to see if this works, too.

  • Alyse

    I have been naysaying this show since it was first announced, though I was optimistic when I heard they were going to towards a “Daily Show” format.

    I tuned in last night to check it out, and was severely disappointed. I’m not a huge Leno fan, but I have enjoyed “The Tonight Show” in the past. It felt like “The Tonight Show” an hour and a half earlier – but not as funny. The monologue fell flat – most of the jokes had me staring in disbelief that he would spew such terrible jokes. I only made it 10 minutes in – turned off during the “Cheaters” parody that was so bad it made my head hurt. I opted, instead, for a “Seinfeld” rerun.

    From what I have heard, this was Ben Silverman’s pet project, and with him no longer at NBC, hopefully this won’t last long.

  • Baritone

    I have not been a particular fan of Leno either. I think he is likely a very nice guy, but I just never cared for his humor.

    I suppose since I’m from Indy, I have a natural preference for Letterman, but I do think Dave is generally edgier and, consequently funnier than Leno.

    I watched the entire program, and frankly, was not impressed. It is far more a clone of the Tonite Show than not. In itself, that’s okay, but since they are attempting to create at least a somewhat different animal, I don’t think that will happen. Actually, assuming the show remains on the air, it will likely morph slowly back to its origins – it will simply become “The Tonite Show” only at 10PM instead of 11:30.

    The fact that Conan is having some difficulty finding his rhythm and his audience, if Leno’s program does not perform as anticipated, it could mean very bad things for NBC. Frankly, I’d prefer to watch, say, “Law and Order – Poughkeepsie.”

  • Douglas Mays

    hhhmmm… lets just see how it goes. It will take a while to get in it’s groove. so, seemingly rough at the moment. the Barack schtick was funny, the Kanye thing was authentic. I haven’t seen that much reality on TV talk shows.

    I do like that some of the pieces from the Tonight Show have been brought over. Mainly Headlines. Headlines is pretty much what I would live for week to week on late night TV. so, I’m happy about that.

    The thing I am curious about is will the Leno Show actually give Letterman a bigger lead in the late night department? Conan is alright. It is always the guest lineup for Letterman or Conan that dictates which one I watch anyway.

    I do appreciate NBC and CBS in some odd form of co-operation of the timing of both shows. Out here at least (don’t know about the rest of the USA) the Tonight Show starts about one minute earlier than the Late Show. I have the TV on NBC, see who the guests are, switch to CBS to see who is appearing and take it from there. Often I want to see the first guest on one channel then see the second guest on the other then choose between the two which band I want to see close…

  • Rick

    Leno has got to be the worst interviewer on TV. He’s ill prepared, has no clue as to what questions to ask, and clearly follows a structured format. On top of that, he’s not particularly funny & I find his remarks quite disingenous.

    Hopefully he’ll finally be removed from TV for good.