The king's crown
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?
Historically, how many kings get back their kingdom after they abdicate? I think it's a relatively low number, like zero.
If you leave your kingdom and then decide to come back, it rarely goes well for anyone. That includes the king himself, his subjects and, apparently, the Irish! But I'm sure in the end Conan will rule another land one day, while Jay does insurance commercials for the elderly.
As far as Mr. Leno's nice-guy status is concerned, it's guilt by association. Jay is viewed as a kind and reasonable guy, pretty much, but his agent could scare starving dogs off the back of a meat truck! She has pushed hard for his success and along the way has stepped on a lot of toes -- including Jay's and her own.
The networks will lose more and more to cable unless the freedom to be creative increases. That means much less censorship. The people with the most writing and directing talent do not like to be told there are words or situations that must be avoided. They, in turn, attract the best actors and cinematographers. So the days of canned laugh tracks and William Shatner winning acting awards may be numbered.
I do think that Leno is resilient. I remember his original stand-up (before he was famous) where he used to say that it was easy for him to go on the road and try to succeed because he had nothing to lose, no woman, no job, no friends. He said being funny was his only option (this was much funnier in the '70s when being a loser was actually considered bad).
I hope Jay makes it, though; he has worked very hard for his success. He may take it on the chin, but this is a guy with a lot of chin.
Posted by: alexmason | March 5, 2010 10:55 PM
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