Even having my mom on the show couldn’t stop “the biggest fiasco in the history of television” will come to an end soon, as NBC will end its try at making Jay Leno into a 10 p.m. prime time television force. His ratings have been poor, as have those of “The Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien.
Yes, my mom–Sue Ann Gordon– played poker with Jay during one of his neighborhood segments, even exchanging humorous lines with the host and becoming the pride of Burbank. Amazingly, even that wasn’t enough to save Mr. Leno’s prime time experiment! NBC announced that it would end Leno’s prime time show when the Olympics come to NBC’s evening line-up in February. What will happen after that is unclear.
CNN has reported that Jay Leno will go back to his 11:35 p.m. slot. Other pop culture watch sites are affirming that Leno is done in prime time, but what will happen at 11:35 and after is still undecided. Leno himself joked about the situation on a recent show.
I agree with media analyst Mark Berman, who assessed the situation this way: “What they didn’t realize was that the people who watched Leno in late night were not necessarily the same people who watched in prime time, so there was no reason to believe that his audience would follow him to prime time.”
Now the question will be: “Will they follow him back?”
I’m betting they will, because prime time is entertainment, but late night is a relationship. That’s part of what’s inspiring about it. I believe that Jay “coming back” will be akin to a Pastor or Priest having left the pulpit for the mission field and then coming back. The congregation wasn’t against the mission–they just didn’t want to go, and they’re glad their leader is back. I believe Jay will experience such a return.
“The Tonight Show” has been an institution for such a long time, going back to before I was old enough to watch. It has endured through several hosts, #2 men, band leaders and guest hosts. It has evolved in terms of some of its humorous shtick and use of technology, but two things have always been true. It has always started after the news, and it has often ended long after many of its viewers have gone to sleep!
Trying to turn that formula into a prime-time show–where the audience had been trained to pay attention to the drama show or reality show or fake reality show until its stirring conclusion–just didn’t work. The Tonight Show has been the place to say “goodnight” after the news, to add some levity to the day. It is not the thing that leads us into the news. That’s like taking the spoonful of sugar and then the medicine.
As I’ve commented before, it all really comes down to this: it is a personal matter for all of us to select the person or persons we invite into our bedroom–via the TV screen–to close the day with. Conan isn’t getting it done; Jay isn’t there. And this change had to come.
Now, I’ll be interested to see if the players themselves–Jay, Conan and Jimmy Fallon–can check their egos at the door and come up with a solution that works for everyone. That would be inspiring, and help them all draw the viewers back which they’ve each lost in these recent months.