Goodbye, Jay Leno. And don’t let the stage door hit you…

February 6, 2014
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I can’t tell you how well Jay Leno has handled his tenure as desk jockey for “The Tonight Show” because I’ve steadfastly (with occasional lapses) avoided turning in to NBC at 11:30 p.m. since he took over the spot.

Initially, I didn’t do this out of some nostalgia for Johnny Carson, deference to David Letterman, or a particularly early bed time. I did it because, on the times I sampled early in his reign, Leno simply wasn’t all that funny, offered zero surprises, and was a pretty lousy interviewer.

When Conan O’Brien took over “The Tonight Show” (as per agreement with Leno), I appreciated the creativity upgrade but understood completely why a Leno-liking demographic turned away. What I didn’t understand was why NBC execs seemed surprised and why they put O’Brien in the spot without the commitment to growing the audience for this admittedly acquired taste.

When Leno was put back into the slot, he was soon surrounded by even more reasons not to watch “The Tonight Show.” Late night was livened up, with smart fun offered by Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, and particularly Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. Dare I say that Carson himself would have trouble if he had such competition instead of the likes of Alan Thicke. (Anyone remember “Thicke of the Night”? Anyone?)

As these shows grew, Leno seemed lamer and lamer and lamer.

Until the wise move was made to replace him with Jimmy Fallon, who started awkwardly on his own show but quickly proved himself to be engaging, funny, and savvy about his choice of musical guests. Bonus points for house band The Roots. Even more bonus points for his Indianapolis Super Bowl week shows.

And now, while writing this, a commercial airs for the final Leno “Tonight Show” episode.

It includes someone saying that Leno is the best that’s ever done it.


  • Jay
    I will never in a million years understand how that man was so popular.
  • Count me in agreement
    I've never been able to watch his monologue. The humor was too predictable, the timing too slow, the delivery, too dull. He seems like a really nice guy (compared to the much faster-witted but snarky Letterman--or the campy and brilliant Craig Ferguson), but I thought Leno wasn't funny in the least. I just don't get him at all. I'm glad to know I'm not alone.
  • Jay by the numbers...
    22 years. 40,000 jokes. 2 good ones.
  • Cry me a River
    In typical Indiana fashion, if we don't like something, IT must be wrong... So let me get this straight Lou, you haven't watched Leno in 20 years, but you know he isn't good? That's like my kid saying that he doesn't like mashed potatoes, only to admit that he has never tried them. Seems like a reasonable argument... And let's be honest, are A&E posters really the target market for late night shows? Maybe next we can discuss which Adam Sandler movies deserve an Oscar.
  • 3 points
    J.: First, I've sampled enough of Leno to form an opinion, otherwise I wouldn't write one. Second, not all of my readers are posters, although I am fond of both. And third, that would be The Waterboy. Although that, just like everything in the arts, is up for debate. Thanks for reading (and posting)
  • Spot on!
    Lou Harry, you are spot on with your piece on Jay Leno. I have tried to watch many times and he is simply not funny at all. It always has shocked me that his ratings were so high.
  • not funny?
    I'm not a Leno fan either, but to say someone's not funny can only mean he/she's not funny to the observer. Clearly there was a market for Leno's humor, just as there was/is one for Gallagher (not funny to ME), Tyler Perry (not funny to ME), etc.
  • Hold on there, Timberlake
    J. Timberlake - Having lived in Indiana and many other places, I've found that Indiana certainly doesn't have a monopoly on the type of behavior you mention, far from it! In fact the people and opinions I've encountered in Indiana are so diverse, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that is "typical Indiana fashion". While I appreciate your right to state your opinion, I certainly disagree with that one. On the subject of Leno, I always just assumed that he has a type of humor I don't get. I am very much looking forward to seeing how Jimmy Fallon does in the Tonight Show chair!
  • Leno
    Jay Leno is popular in the same way Justin Bieber, Applebees and Jerry Springer are popular
  • ratings
    For all of you that don't find jay leno funny, thanks for voicing your opinions.....meanwhile he's the highest rated late night comedian, and trounces indiana born lefty david letterman. Obviously, there are plenty of people that still want Leno on tv.
  • Not Johnny
    After watching Leno a few times, I realized how good Johnny Carson really was. It's too bad that he was replaced by Leno. I look forward to Jimmy Fallon, who is really funny.
  • In Agreement with Lou
    I'm 38, and I watched Johnny Carson. I spent many years watching Jay, and I have even laughed at his jokes. However, he was just middle of the road humor, except for occasional examples of bite (the interview with Hugh Grant). It was just all filler. I was never a big fan of Letterman, and while I do recall watching the premiere of Conan, it wasn't something I caught on a regular basis. However, the debacle with the transition to Conan to The Tonight Show, I have become a big fan of his, and I record his show every night. He is very funny, and he is savvy to what it takes to be an entertainer today (i.e. a very robust online engagement). Leno has always been Leno. He has never changed with the times. Yes, he's been on for 22 years, but what impact has he made? People talk about Carson like he was a god, and he was, to an extent, but Jay was just there. To some extent, that was fine, but when the history of television is written, he's not going to be remembered. He'll be the Millard Fillmore of late night.
  • Bring on Fallon
    These things are personal preference and I am sure age has a lot to do with that preference. I suspect, most Leno fans are old and staying up late. I really think we have entered a new era. Fallon and Kimmel are hilarious, fresh and brilliant. Now I just need to set the DVR.
  • I Tried
    I watched Leno a number of times. While I think the argument can be appropriately made that the show wasn't funny and often times played it too safe, I don't believe the blame rests solely on Leno's shoulders. I think the funnier moments of the show came when Leno was off script, or...not using the written material. It was too rehearsed, the timing was slow, questions too predictable, etc. Fallon (and Conan) is funny, because he often leaves the scripted material and projects more of his personality into the program.
  • Leno = annoying!
    I usually hit the remote to turn away the minute Leno came on. I found him usually more rude than funny, many of the "bits" were older than he is (although the William Shatner running bit was funny), and his ability to seek out and expoit stupid people was grating. I rarely watch an episode of Jimmy Fallon that I don't laugh out loud at something (or a lot of things!). I am so excited he's getting the earlier spot, and I hope his show doesn't change a lot - keep the goofiness that got him to the chair!
  • Leno, Fallon, Tomayto, Tomahto
    I first saw Leno live at the Indiana State Fair in the early 90’s when he gave 90 minutes of stand-up with no notes and never once uttered a profanity—and never once did I think I wasn’t get my money’s worth. Leno’s calm, laid-back, vanilla style obviously works for the majority of late-night viewers in his time slot. It’s also obvious that those who agree with Lou that Leno is ‘lame’ didn’t see Leno’s last show because his closing comments embodied what kind of an old-school entertainer he is. Some folks find it fashionably easy to dislike Jay Leno just as they do Fox News. However, it’s hard to argue against the success of both Leno and Fox News when each leads their competition in viewership. People simply have different tastes and preferences. I am just as certain Jimmy Fallon will be successful at the helm of the Tonight Show as I am certain Jay Leno went out the right way, on top. As Dennis Miller aptly said, “One person’s Screech is another person’s Voltaire.”
  • Applebees
    The Jay Leno and Applebees comparison is PERFECT!
  • mark1in
    What would you expect from a man with two first names. Sorry Lou, but the numbers are the numbers. Leno was the clear winner among the gaggle of late night hosts and not surprisingly. Letterman is an old bitter liberal, Fallon, while talented, struggles as a interviewer. Conan, is funny at times, but irrelevant on TBS. KImmel would finish fourth in his time slot if he were competing with 3 test patterns. While I understand personal tastes can differ, the numbers are the numbers and NBC will rue the day they fired Jay for the second time.
  • Right.
    Funny, I feel about Lou Harry's work exactly as he feels about Jay Leno's.

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