Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Why I Watch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Just watched the first Tonight Show of the year, also the first episode since the writers strike began. Jay, I believe, could not rely on any of his usual 19 writers for the jokes in the monologue. Yet, it was good to see the Show back on air and it reminded me of many of the reasons why I prefer this over David Letterman or any other tonight shows.

First, Jay you can tell is a genuinely nice guy. One of the reasons he brought the show back was because the Tonight Show has a large behind the scenes crew (160 people). When the writers decided to strike, they were effectively putting all 160 people out of work, and NBC had decided earlier to lay them all off because no one knew how long the negotiations between the Writer's Guild and the networks and studios would last. Leno, like the other show hosts, offered to pay the staffs' weekly salaries, a nice gesture on all their parts. But what makes Leno stand out, is he has fun hosting.

When I flip through the channels and see Letterman, he tries too hard to be funny and sometimes breaks out laughing at his own jokes. Letterman also looks like he is working, flipping through his queue cards or talking to Paul Shaffer, his music director, you see a guy who doesn't look like he cares much about the audience or who isn't enjoying his work.

In tonight's show, Leno, after the monologue, actually opened up the floor to take questions from the audience. And the amazing part is, according to him, the questions are unscreened without preset answers. What convinces me this is true is that the questioners are all seated in the audience and microphones are brought over to them after they raise their hands. This is amazing for any show host to actually do. Leno's answers were funny, down to earth, and feel good. He told stories about when he was younger and mentioned his wife several times. Letterman or the other hosts lack that personal touch, seldom do you hear much about their past or family lives. Talking about personal issues isn't essential to being a great comedian or host, but those who do convince me that they are genuinely better at comedy and are having much more fun. At least they are enjoying themselves.

Finally, at the end of the show, Leno cooked some pepper steak with Emeril, both of them actually filleted two steaks and ate the finished product on air!

Early during the monologue, when one of his jokes bombed, Leno said that the audience should blame his wife because as there were no writers, Jay had to determine whether the things he wrote were funny or not by asking her. I think that's incredibly sweet.

Finally, it's good to see a great program back on air. It's like being able to watch Tiger Woods play another golf tournament, you know you'll be watching one man give it his all. He holds himself to a higher standard than what any viewer or media executive can impose. It's another reason to watch television and I'm still a fan, with or without writers, of the Tonight Show.

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