Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tonight (1954-2010)

Yes, I'm calling it.

I suspect NBC knows it.

And I predict history will record it.

This is the death of The Tonight Show.

Oh, sure, something will hang on with the name and some people will watch it, but it will just be stumbling along. Whatever was left of the institution is gone.

You see, five years ago NBC made a decision to dump Leno from "Tonight" and replace him with popular Late Night host Conan O'Brien.

People now are trying to go back and suggest that the decision itself was wrong, but will be making a mistake. What they did was right. It was the when that they got wrong. You see, I'm sure NBC's research tells them what anyone my age or younger could tell them anecdotally. Baby Boomers, or "The Worst Generation", may put up with that Leno guy's shenanigans but younger viewers don't just not care for him, we fucking hate him like poison.


And the generation coming of age now doesn't even have a way to remember, as Why Some Comics Aren’t Laughing at Jay Leno by Nathan Rabin makes note of, when Leno used to be funny.

Somehow, internally, this is more than a preference thing. You say you like Ray Romano or even Larry the Cable Guy and I'll roll my eyes and remember not to take comedy advice from you. Even before this, saying you like Leno upsets me viscerally. It kind of make me want to kick your ass. It makes you the other. My enemy.

It's not an accident that the I'm with Coco campaign pictures and rhetoric look political. There is a feeling of us vs. them. Frankly, if Leno is going to hell for nothing else, though, it's for making me write the following words: Jimmy Kimmel, you sir, totally rock!


But you want to know what really upsets me in all of this? The fact that I don't really care.

Since Johnny Carson retired, I don't care for that 11:35/10:35pm slot. I loved David Letterman on "Late Night", but I have to admit, as much as I wanted to latch onto Late Show and have tried to, and may have occasionally pretended to, I just can't seem to. I enjoy it occasionally when I've bothered to watch.

And frankly I feel the same about Conan's version of "The Tonight Show". I think Conan's awesome. I think "The Tonight Show" time, place, etc. is meaningless. The only thing I like is the part where Leno is publicly humiliated a little, but he's obviously "won".

And clearly that's literally the only thing that smug, smarmy little car salesman bastard cares about. 17 years as regular host on "The Tonight Show" have demonstrated that gaining respect isn't something he cares about. His is an insular perspective, uninterested in the world around him except in how it benefits him or can be used in a way to better show him off to the world. Perhaps in that way is how Leno best represents his generation, and how the world will deserve him until the Baby Boomers die off and fall to senility in greater numbers.


Christopher Mason said...

You pulled all of this together really well, kudos.I have always thought Jay Leno to be annoying, that's putting it mildly. When it comes to these shows, I watch Dave and Conan. I don't care what network they are under. And I call them by their first names because they have made me feel, over the years that I should.

Neil Sarver said...


I think the weird connection people, myself included, feel toward these hosts is important to the way these things play out. I think it's part of why there's this explosion of passion for Conan despite him not getting the ratings.

Those of us who fall under Team Conan didn't necessarily want to bother watching "The Tonight Show", but still feel like he's "our guy".

I don't fault money guys for trying to make money, but I think every step of this could have been handled better.

But I confess I'm not sure I know exactly how.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hey Neil...Been following and enjoying your comments on this whole debacle.

I do disagree with one point though - given the black and white, us versus them, "You're either with us or agin us!" mentality of most political discourse these days, I really can't stand this whole Team Leno/Team Conan thing. I know it's puny potatoes in comparison to the larger issues, but if we can't see middle ground on the little things...

Having said, I guess it's obvious which side I lean to considering Leno is Leno to me, not Jay. He used to be funny - I actually saw him do stand-up over 20 years ago. He had timing, sparkle and was quick to react to the audience. But compare that to his reactions to Kimmel - everything was an obvious by the book generic reaction. Geez, that's how I would respond! He's lost all his instincts for comedy over the last few decades. I never really liked him as Tonight Show host and over the years liked him less and less (whenever I would swing on by for a few minutes). Can't stand him now. And boy, that 2004 announcement is pretty telling now, isn't it?

Oh, by the way, Ray Romano was extremely funny in "Funny People" and I always thought his stand up was pretty decent. His TV show was terrible though.

I hope you'll still speak to me after that admission...

Neil Sarver said...

Bob, I've taken forever to reply here and I wish I had some good excuse. I'm sorry.

In principle I agree with you about the black and white debate and teams, etc. The level of polarity in our public discourse is toxic.

And absurd.

Whether it's something big or small, as you say, everything has to be polarized and the other pole has to be the enemy and dangerous, this making us all seem much further split apart from our friends and neighbors than we really are. I completely agree.

And yet, liking Leno?

Yes, when it comes down to the alternative being a part of that societal shift, I can agree with you.

And yet somehow it's harder than it seems like it should be.

As Mark Evanier says in Still Standing, "If I don't like a performer, I don't watch him. It's just as effective as if he did disappear and it saves a lot of time."

And I so agree in principle and yet find it so hard with how much Leno ticks me off.

I think part of it is the ever fading memory of him as someone who was good. I liked him as Johnny's guest host. He was fresh and funny.

Now he seems strangely symbolic of all that's wrong with America. That heinous Jaywalking "Stupid people laughing at people being stupid" without any context or educational value, just mean spirited.

Nobody hates the dumbing down of America more than I do. But somehow Leno manages to make that bit both mocking people's ignorance and encouraging it. It could almost be brilliant if it didn't strive so desperately for banality.

That somehow symbolizes everything about the modern Leno to me. The cheerful face of mean-spirited lowest common denominator banality.

And I have to admit I've never seen Ray Romano's stand-up. I can actually believe it is good. I think the neverending sagas created by American broadcast television makes everything terrible. If not right away then eventually...

Marty McKee said...

What's sad about Jay is that, once upon a time, he was really funny. Those of us who remember him from the '80s know he was one of the best comics around. He traded being funny for boatloads of money, which is a terrible shame.

Frankly, I think the late-night talk show format is dead, period. They're all the same!! Monologue, band, desk bit, currently hot celeb plugging new movie, album, etc. Nothing spontaneous, everything rehearsed.

I haven't watched any of these shows on a regular basis since Letterman sold out and went to CBS (LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN was a spoof of talk shows. LATE SHOW actually is one).

I loved Tom Snyder's LATE LATE SHOW. Loved POLITICALLY INCORRECT. Loved when Cavett and Grodin were on CNBC. Please, someone, do something new. Bring on guests who are genuinely interesting, not Jessica Biel who has a new film out on Friday.

Neil Sarver said...

Totally agree on all points. Leno used to be really funny. I frankly enjoyed his guest hosting.

I think everyone's a little bored with the talk show format, which I think part of the problem that no one is trying to address... although perhaps Craig Ferguson doing a full hour actual interview with Stephen Fry addresses that to some extent, although I haven't gotten around to watching that.

I agree on the best of these shows. Personally, I'd add "Later with Bob Costas".

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