This Friday night, Jimmy Fallon will host his last episode of “Late Night” and be on his way to hosting “The Tonight Show.” The day before, Thursday, Jay Leno will host his last episode of The Tonight Show after 22 years. I don’t actually like Jay Leno, but I also don’t believe the popular opinion to resent him is necessarily fair.
Historically, on the surface, people have legitimate reasons to dislike Leno. Some argue he unethically received The Tonight Show over David Letterman by going behind his back. However, what really spawned much of my generation’s hatred of Leno stems back to 2010 when it appeared that Leno gave Conan O’Brien The Tonight Show and then took it right back a few months later. I don’t look at it like that and I definitely don’t fully blame Leno for what happened; NBC should have taken the brunt of the anger, not Leno. NBC told Leno a few years prior to 2010 that he would soon be out; the show would be Conan’s. Then NBC gave Leno his own show at 10 p.m. Could Leno have decided to just retire altogether rather than having a pseudo “Tonight Show” an hour and a half before Conan’s show? He probably could have; however, ultimately that was NBC’s decision.
Not even a year into his stint as host, NBC decided Conan’s ratings were not good enough and asked Jay to host a half hour show when The Tonight Show normally started and bump Conan back. Could Leno have said no and let Conan mature and find his niche as host of the new show? Absolutely, and that is why I’m still fairly anti-Leno. However, if one really looks at Leno’s situation, he really didn’t do anything wrong. One day he was told by NBC that he was being pushed out. Then shortly after he was gone, NBC asked him to come back and he agreed. His position in the whole debacle, in a sort of messed up way, made complete sense. I believe NBC is to blame for making quick, shortsighted decisions.
Even if, as the reader, you’re convinced Leno isn’t that bad of a guy, you probably don’t think he’s very funny; I completely agree based on his performance as host of The Tonight Show. I was lucky enough to see Leno live a few years ago and his act was nothing like I’ve seen him on The Tonight Show. He was edgier, smarter, and simply funnier. If you look up some of his old performances, such as interviews on Letterman’s Late Night, you’ll see a different kind of Jay: a Jay who wasn’t afraid of offending people or alienating viewers.
I don’t blame Leno for the decisions he’s made. He’s been the most popular late night talk show host forever; he panders his humor to such a broad audience and it makes him popular with the “common man.” It’s unfortunate, but it wasn’t a bad show-business move on his part.
You can still choose to believe he’s a sleazy guy because of the controversy with Conan and Letterman, but I do hope you look up old clips of Leno, because he truly is a funny comedian.
Andrew Lieberman is an LSA senior.