Why The Anti-Lenoism?

Comedian Jay Leno i i

Comedian Jay Leno performs during the Jay Leno Comedy Stimulus Plan show. Tonight marks Leno's return to late-night amid a sharp popularity drop. David Kohl/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption David Kohl/AP Photo
Comedian Jay Leno

Comedian Jay Leno performs during the Jay Leno Comedy Stimulus Plan show. Tonight marks Leno's return to late-night amid a sharp popularity drop.

David Kohl/AP Photo

If there was a low point for Jay Leno, it came last month when Jimmy Kimmel appeared on his show. Getting attacked on your own show is bad enough considering Leno was already getting mocked by David Letterman. But even as his rivals ribbed him mercilessly, Leno always kept his silence. Well, almost always.

Now that Leno has returned in a bid to reclaim his late-night throne, one of the big questions is whether all the slings and arrows he sustained will diminish his audience. Various polls have shown he's slipped in popularity. there are at least 50 Facebook groups dedicated to loathing him. And trust me, you don't make a trip to Oprah's couch, as Leno did last month, unless you have an image to repair.

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So here's a simple question: Why the anti-Lenoism? Yes, it's sad that Conan O'Brien had The Tonight Show pulled out from under him and handed back to Leno, but why is that Leno's fault? There's not a shred of evidence Leno orchestrated this, but given the backlash against him you'd think he owned NBC.

Leno's sin is that he wins in the ratings. Attacking him is just a calculated way of trying to get some of that audience. It's not unlike the way rappers take aim at top musical performers in their lyrics. Except instead of Jay-Z, here they bait Jay-L.

Andrew Wallenstein

Andrew Wallenstein is the editor of The Hollywood Reporter. hide caption

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But there's something deeper that drives anti-Lenoism, and its just as empty as his rivals' envy. There's a common perception that Leno is just a hack who peddles pablum. His success is offensive to those with refined palates who prefer the younger, allegedly hipper O'Brien.

Now let's say that Leno is shamelessly pandering. There's another word for that in the TV industry. Its called programming. People like it, it goes on the air. Why anyone would think broadcast television is intended to be a bastion of sophisticated humor is mystifying. That said, I don't think Leno is even guilty of any crimes against comedy. When it comes down to it, is anything Leno does really materially different than Letterman or O'Brien? I've never seen a meaningful distinction.

So maybe it's time to cut Leno a break. And if you still don't like him, well that's the beauty of TV: just change the channel.

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