Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Tonight marks Jay Leno's return to "The Tonight Show." But his image has been tarnished by a failed attempt at prime time, and the train wreck it caused at NBC.

Still, commentator Andrew Wallenstein says Leno doesn't deserve to be vilified, as he was on his own show in January by fellow late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

(Soundbite of TV program, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. JIMMY KIMMEL (Television Host): You've got $800 million. For God's sake, leave our shows alone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANDREW WALLENSTEIN (Editor, The Hollywood Reporter): Getting attacked on your own show is bad enough, considering Leno was already getting mocked by David Letterman.

(Soundbite of TV program, "Late Night with David Letterman")

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Television Host): They went to Jay "Big Jaw" Leno, and they said, Jay, we're taking your show away from you, and Jay said (imitating Leno), yeah, OK, that sounds pretty good to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: But even as his rivals ribbed him mercilessly, Leno always kept his silence. Well, almost always.

(Soundbite of television program, "The Tonight Show")

Mr. JAY LENO (Television Host): Hey, Kev, you know the best way to get Letterman to ignore you?

Mr. KEVIN EUBANKS (Guitarist, The Tonight Show Band): What's that?

Mr. LENO: Marry him. OK, that's the best way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Now that Leno has returned to reclaim his late-night throne, one of the big questions is whether all the slings and arrows he sustained will diminish his audience. There's at least 50 Facebook groups dedicated to loathing him. 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. There's a common perception that Leno is just a hack who peddles pabulum. His success is offensive to those with refined palates, who prefer the allegedly hipper O'Brien.

Now, let's say that Leno is shamelessly pandering. There's another word for that in the TV industry. It's 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.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.