Cleve Francis
cardiologist, musician

Cleve Francis

Cardiologist; President, Mount Vernon Cardiology Associates, Alexandria, Va.; musician.

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Leno gets his groove back

Q: Jay Leno is back in his 11:30 p.m. "Tonight Show" slot, after a disappointing run in prime time and a messy showdown with Conan O'Brien, who briefly replaced him. Can Leno win back his status as king of late night and all-around nice guy? As viewers turn away from the networks, can anyone be expected to dominate an increasingly splintered audience? Are the days of Johnny Carson-like success over?

I think that Jay Leno will come back as strong as ever in his old 11:30 p.m. slot and may even pick up a number of new viewers. We are blessed to have two great comedians, Leno and Letterman, whom over time we have come to know and trust. With quick wit and professional deliveries, they basically do the same thing for us in their own different styles.

It is true that these kinds of shows are used for promotion of movies, events and stars, but they serve a more basic need for the viewers. In this fast-paced world known as the informational age, they provide a comedic filter that allows us to deal with some of the information that otherwise causes nightmares, depression and ulcers.

It is the classic monologues that give us that needed relief and allow us to lay our tired heads on pillows, preceded by a laugh or a simple smile. It is a tribute to these great comedians that some listeners stay awake to watch the entire show.

Johnny Carson was a generational icon, but so are Leno and Letterman. They have become the "Johnny Carsons" of this generation, dealing with far more complex social and political issues on a daily basis. There will always be a need for a "Carson-Style" show for millions of us who find it necessary to have such a show before retiring.

The reason that this kind of program does not work in the 10-11 p.m. time slot is that it does not fit as a prelude to a rap-up news program. Jay Leno again, Yes!!!

By Cleve Francis  |  March 4, 2010; 3:21 PM ET  | Category:  Comeback attempts Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I agree completely with Mr. Francis. It bothers me greatly that some see the whole controversy as Jay Leno's fault, when it was NBC that made the original agreement with Conan, then tried the failed experiment with Leno at 10, and when Conan's ratings were quite poor, decided to bring Leno back at 11:30. Were any of these NBC decisions Jay Leno's fault? Hardly! (and Letterman's sniping at Leno the past few months reminds me of a bitter old man...not exactly endearing, to say the least!)

Having watched some of Leno's shows this past week, he is just as humorous as ever, and the show feels "comfortable" to viewers. It works far better at the end of the day then in "prime time."

Welcome back, Jay!

Posted by: tbeall1 | March 5, 2010 3:06 PM
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In principle I agree that late night comedians can serve the function Francis advocates. Unfortunately, Leno doesn't do this (and the last few times I've watched Letterman, his shtick has lost some of its edge, too--though he's always been sharper than Leno). One need only look at Leno's signature segment--the Jaywalking bits in which hapless individuals are shown to be clueless. This is the lowest of low-hanging fruit. To turn one's wit on the dullest of the masses is not to help us to grapple with the nightmares of our social and political life, but to turn our attention away from these difficulties, to allow these anxieties free range to fester and expand in an anesthetized environment.

If Francis is serious about comedy serving a social/political function that helps us to grapple with the difficulties we collectively face, he would do better to turn to John Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Unlike Jay who picks on the clueless and powerless, they focus their wit on the powerbrokers who should be the objects of scrutiny if comedy is to be a coping mechanism rather than a nervous forgetfulness.

Posted by: daviestad | March 5, 2010 1:54 PM
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