Television

Hey, We Almost Forgot: Jay Leno Returns To 'The Tonight Show'

The logo of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

Jay Leno's got a new logo, and his old job. NBC hide caption

itoggle caption NBC

You may have forgotten that Jay Leno heads back to The Tonight Show tonight, because NBC has made a rather small deal out of it, compared to what you might expect for the triumphant return of America's allegedly favorite late-night host.

While there was a lot of hostility about Leno six weeks ago — heck, even just a little over a month ago, when Conan O'Brien's last show wrapped — I sense that there's very little actual anti-Lenoism anymore. Leno's fans will be happy he's back, and while if you poke people who don't like him, they'll talk about how much they don't think he's funny, I'm not sure most of the people who were the most aggravated by his reinstatement to his old job really care anymore.

Jay Leno has ceased to be a pop-culture fixation and has gone back to being what he was before: television for people who like that sort of thing. His failure at 10 p.m., much as everyone involved tried to recast it as his being pulled from prime-time to rescue The Tonight Show, blew a hole in NBC's prime-time schedule that they'll be struggling with for a while. So for people who want there to be some reason for networks to at least consider the downside of "managing for margins," there is that.

And if you think Leno is sort of failing upward and kicking out a more talented guy (as I do personally), that's just kind of one of those things that happens on TV, like eight seasons of According To Jim. You should never stop advocating for quality, but at some point, people start ignoring the things that don't offend so much as sedate.

Conan is on Twitter now, where he debuted last week with the tweet, "Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me." He's acquired 460,000 followers since last Wednesday, and it's been a good reminder that he's not dead or anything, just because he's not working at NBC anymore. He's going to get a job; there is very little risk that Conan O'Brien is going to become a hobo. (If he does, I hope he keeps tweeting about that, too.)

There's also very little reason to believe that Leno won't get his fans back at 11:35. The fact that Leno went on television and declared that he would voluntarily step aside and hand over the reins — only to later admit that he never meant that, even when he said it — certainly belies his "regular guy who's as much a victim as anyone else" story, but that's very inside-baseball stuff. Most people don't pay attention to that, and even fewer will allow it to influence their decisions about what to watch.

It's sort of perfect that Leno is having Olympians and the cast of Jersey Shore on this week — adored stars and people who can be easily made to look stupid are the yin and yang of his fish-in-a-barrel approach, and he'll most likely be as popular as ever. I'm not sure that many people who were the most wound up a month ago are going to bother disliking Jay Leno anymore, when it's so much easier to just forget about him.

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