Friday, February 7, 2014

Leno's Last Stand

by Bill Holmes

On Thursday, February 6, 2014 Jay Leno hosted his (maybe) last Tonight Show. It has been a run of 22 years that survived one firing that ended in a triumphant return. Although not a Leno fan, I am a connoisseur of late night TV and Jay is a major player in that genre. There have only been five hosts in the 60 year history of the show and Jay holds second place on the number of years hosted list.

The show opened with a longer than usual ovation. Jay's monologue started with several jokes about what has changed in the 22 years he has been host. Some were pretty good. He joked that 22 years ago marijuana was illegal everywhere but you could smoke cigarettes wherever you wanted. Times change. There were also flashbacks of political jokes. It was an OK monologue, not great. Next there were several clips of celebrities telling Jay what he should do next. It was mostly not funny.

The first guest was Billy Crystal. He started by paraphrasing some of Leno's best jokes over the years. He and Jay then reminisced about old times as young, broke comedians. That was followed by a lame musical number by Billy. It was merely a vehicle to get several celebrities out on stage to sing a line. Oprah was there as was Carol Burnett. The worst was a kind of chunky looking Kim Kardashian. One thing you don't want to hear is Kim K. singing. Hell, you don't want to hear her talk.

The musical guest was Garth Brooks who sang one of Jay's favorite songs, The Dance. It's a great song, but the performance was just fair. Garth's voice sounded a little off and the energy was lacking.

It was then time for Jay's goodbye speech. He teared up almost immediately. He thanked the fans, crew, writers, band and even NBC. It seemed sincere. He ended by quoting Johnny Carson's farewell line from 22 years ago, "I bid you a heartfelt goodnight."

The closing was another song, Friends in Low Places, by Garth. Once again, a great song but a mediocre performance.

Like most of these last shows, this one fell a little short. That's understandable. You can't really cram 22 years and thousands of shows into one hour. This one didn't touch me like the last Carson show. I was both mad and sad that Johnny was leaving. I choked up at the end. He had been part of my life since high school. Little did we know that Johnny would virtually disappear from public after that show.

I suspect we'll still see Jay around. He's only in his early 60's and is a workaholic. Hell, if Fallon falters we may see him back on the Tonight Show for a third time. At least for now, it's the end of the Leno era. What's next for him and what's next for late night TV?

Time marches on.


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