Why You Should Still Detest Jay Leno

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 12, 2010 in Television |

Jay Leno

The 80s seems like such a distant era these days and part of the reason was that there was just so little media in that era. Cable television was just starting to take off, but it was a very niche and the America wasn’t even on AOL yet. So there were so very venues for alternative culture aside from perhaps MTV and a few publications. However after Johnny Carson, the David Letterman show was a special oasis of culture. It was based out of New York City so it had a very different vibe, and the guests were much more off the beaten path.

The first thing was amazing about Dave was that he’d have A+ music acts from the era. And while the likes of hit makers like Madonna or the Go-Go’s would be on the show — he’d also have lesser known acts like Nina Hagen and Robyn Hitchcock appear on the show. Dave was also very good about giving air time to up-and-coming comics on his program like Bill Maher, Sam Kinison, Jerry Seinfeld and yes Jay Leno:

Dave did the right thing — he paid his damn dues all of those years. Firstly he really had his own personality, what he was doing with Late Night was original and interesting. But more importantly he opened the door to quite a few folks who would never have had the platform to get out there. And for all of that, what was his thanks? To have Jay stab him in the back and get the Tonight Show gig. Now to be fair Carson really wanted to have Bill Maher get the spot — but by all rights the gig belonged to Dave.

So I really never quite forgave Jay Leno for what happened. Now of course you could argue that Jay was more mainstream and always had the better ratings. Yet looking at it over the years my gut tells me that was more a result of Jay being in Hollywood and having the better guests. There was also always that shadow hanging over Letterman in the years that followed — although it wasn’t that Dave got any less edgy, but during the 90s cable television started to come of age and pushed the barriers of comedy even further.

Of course Dave and Jay aren’t kids — they’re pros playing a very high stakes game. Were it the other way around I’m sure Dave would have stabbed Jay in the back if he was the guest comedian on Jay’s show. But it’s for that reason that I don’t have much sympathy for Jay’s failure in prime time — as an adult he took a calculated risk and bombed. Frankly it’s amazing to me that NBC would give him his old slot back and kill off Conan in the process: That’s a much more generous deal than Carson got when the network shoved him out the door.

Above: Johnny Carson pays a visit to Letterman on CBS in 1994.

But that’s not the reason I detest Jay: To me he stands for everything I dislike about what’s left of the big networks — he’s big, bland and boring. The biggest chance Jay ever took was trying out a new time slot, but aside from that he leaves behind a trail of dull banal banter. And as tired as I am of reality TV shows, with a few exceptions I’ve avoided network channels for quite a few years now. And with Jay in charge of late night at NBC I’m sure I’ll be avoiding that time slot.

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