Goodnight, Jay!

Leno

We knew it was coming and the day finally arrived.  After two decades of hosting “The Tonight Show”—with only a brief intermission—Jay Leno gave up his desk and the show will head off to New York, where Jimmy Fallon takes over.

Lots can be said about Jay, the history of the show, the Conan debacle, Letterman versus Leno, etc.  However, I find it sad that there are so many bitter people out there, who feel they need to take just one more jab at him before he heads off into the late night sunset.

I guess I don’t understand the hate.  So when exactly was it that you worked with him? Oh, your feelings are based on something you read or that was passed along on the Internet, where Abe Lincoln once warned us in a tweet never to believe everything you read.

Winners draw detractors.  A quick reminder about all the smack being said about the Seattle Seahawks before Sunday’s big game.  There was a large part of the country that believed the posts they read or the commentators who used Richard Sherman’s post-game rant as free license to paint villain all over the team.

Jay Leno may not be your cup of tea, your style of comedian, but he’s a funny guy. He’s paid some good writers over the years, present company included, to come up with timely, topical gags to use in his monologue.  For 10 years, I was lucky enough to be able to contribute to that opening segment of the show.  Each week, I would send out the week’s jokes which I also posted on my website.  One of the biggest personal rewards I’ve had over the years was having my sister in the Midwest letting me know that Jay had just done one of my jokes that she had read in my email earlier in the day.

That told me that if things had been a little different, I might have played in the big leagues as a writer.  When I started writing gags for Jay, it paid $50 a joke.  By the time it wrapped up ten years later, it was $75.  Do some digging on my website and every joke that you see posted in the color green, that was one of the ones Jay bought.  The last joke I sold him was around three years ago, when union writers apparently got miffed about how many jokes Jay was buying from a non-union person like me.

Jay gave me a chance to play the bigs.  I tried a couple of times to get into the Letterman room, but it’s a different beast.

The other night, when Russell Wilson appeared on “Late Night”, I watched a bit of the monologue and was reminded again of why Dave doesn’t work for me.  There were some clever lines sprinkled amongst mannerisms and general comments. I don’t know how it evolved, but the audience breaks out on applause whenever they recognize Dave just told a joke.  In my mind, I’m thinking, “Really?  It’s that much of a crowning achievement?”  With Leno, and most of the other late-night folks, there might be an occasional applause outburst, but it’s usually just laughs and the show keeps moving.

Sure, Jay’s old.  OK, older. He needs to be replaced, because….well, sure he’s been #1 in his time slot for a lot of years….and, uh….oh yeah, Jimmy Fallon will attract a younger audience.  There’s some truth there, but also a couple of factors to consider:

1)     The majority of your present-in-the-moment late-night audience is just plain older.  Younger viewers don’t stay up to watch a TV talk show, older viewers have older habits.

2)     The average age of Jimmy Fallon’s current audience is only a few years younger than Jay’s. Read about it here.

3)     Don’t get me wrong, Fallon is fresh and funny.  But there’s going to be a portion of Jay’s audience who will resent his departure and leave the show.  Where will they land?  Kimmel?  Letterman?  Conan?  And, as the viewership fragments, who will ascend to #1?

Jay-haters, you can now go back to leading a fulfilled life and find some other #1 person or show to criticize.  Jay has left NBC—again—and, most likely, for good this time.  Oh, how I would love to have him stroll into FOX when his non-compete clause is up and re-launch over there, to further fragment the late-night audience.  Then again, he might just stick to doing personal appearances, tinker with his car collection and enjoy life for as many years as he has left.  I hope it’s a lot Jay, because you deserve it.

Thanks for letting me play along.

Tim Hunter

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