Its difficult to explain how corny and insipid Jay Leno is until you spend a week or so with your parents on vacation, with one television set and only basic cable channels to choose from. Its torture - O.J. jokes, intern jokes, puns, dated topical humor - basically, except for his expensive wardrobe and courteous manners, his humor is no different from that of a morning drive-time disc jockey.
Even worse, Leno's interview segments consist almost entirely of personal "What do you do in your spare time?/Do you like to golf"-type questions that blandly promote what the guest is selling, especially if the guest works for NBC or Universal. That sort of promotion is the only reason most celebrities agree to appear on those shows in the first place, but compare Leno's style of interviewing to that of, say, Conan or David Letterman, who make the guests work to get their plug in by way of saying something interesting about their work, how it was made, or what inspired them to make it. Leno's predecessor, the irreplaceable Johnny Carson, excelled at using his guests in comedy bits and at making his guests look hilarious; Leno lacks those skills, and at best does the sort of "scripted joke cue half-assedly disguised as a question"-thing that bothers Jake and I so much. Of course, NBC is rewarding this bad interviewing/crass corporate promotion by giving him a daily, hour-long show in prime time, which is going to cut Conan off at the knees and exhaust audiences that would otherwise tune in to see the Tonight Show.
My question is this: if NBC wants to use its late-night talk shows to promote the rest of its programming, then wouldn't the best way to do that be to make the guests look funny, instead of having them recite lines that some PR specialist wrote for them that involve using the word "special" once every five words? Just thinking out loud here.
Amelie Gilette - who's been on a roll lately - tore Leno a new one on Friday, asking "Does Anybody Remember Leno's 'Most Memorable' Moments?", dismissing Entertainment Weekly's list of the 14 most memorable moments from Leno's tenure on the Tonight Show by saying
To sum up EW's incredibly scientific findings: the best parts about the Tonight Show With Jay Leno had nothing to do with Jay Leno. The best parts were the guests. More specifically, when the guests were either setting things on fire, proposing, drunk, apologizing for picking up hookers, eulogizing Johnny Carson, announcing they want to be governor of California, driving go-carts, or being Obama. Only two of these Leno moments (The Itos, and Roseanne tells Jacko jokes) could be classified as comedy bits, and one of them involved another person telling jokes instead of Jay Leno.
Anyway, be sure to tune into Conan this week and next, because once the inevitable "Conan's ratings are a let-down" stories begin to appear, it won't matter how funny Conan is, how many writers and comedy nerds watch him or how many critics love him, he'll be replaced by somebody boring and unthreatening and more willing to blindly do what NBC wants him to do, and that will make living in America just a little bit less interesting.