The difficult goodbye:
Wednesday's Tonight Show
had, in the first 15 minutes, two O.J. jokes and two jokes about Bill Clinton being a womanizer, but little in the way of sappy farewells.
Jay Leno's last Tonight Show airs tonight, but you'll notice the hype is nothing like it was when, for instance, Johnny Carson aired his last shows. (Carson's last was a little-recalled retrospective; his second-to-last show was the one with Bette Midler that everyone talks about.)
Of course, it's a very different event for NBC. Carson was retiring; Leno is leaving for his own prime-time show that will air every weeknight at 10 p.m., come fall. In theory, this is a good thing. In theory, Jay Leno is being promoted. What can be bittersweet about being given a third of your network's weeknight real estate? That's just sweet, right?
So while there has been some looking back this week with clips and so forth (and a silly Thursday-night medley from Billy Crystal), Leno will probably not get his "Here's That Rainy Day." Not just because he's emphatically not that guy, but because he's not really in a position to acknowledge that there's a real possibility that he's experiencing a sad ending.
The great uncertainty that is Jay Leno's prime-time project, after the jump ...
If his fall show is perceived as a success, it won't matter. He will do that show as long as he does it, and when it ends, he'll have all the streamers and balloons and keys to the city he wants.
But if it isn't, then he may wind up wishing he'd gone out with greater fanfare. If the new show fails, this is the end of the Jay Leno Era at NBC — even though the show will undoubtedly stay on a while regardless of ratings, if only because the network isn't likely to have five hours of prime-time shows with which they can abruptly replace it.