Last night, NBC and Jay Leno closed the book on The Jay Leno Show, an experiment in programming that Entertainment Weekly has named the biggest bomb in television history. Though the show wasn’t a big success (particularly for the local station affiliates that essentially demanded its cancellation), it made financial sense for the network and often outperformed Leno’s Tonight Show run.
In any case, Leno closed out his show without much of hoopla. Like the last episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, any sentiment is muted since Leno will be back on the air in a similar format very soon. Last time, he got a four month break. This time, he’s getting a month and a half.
NBC’s strategy is to repair Leno’s image and put The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien behind them as quickly as possible. Like the rest of the run of the Jay Leno Show, there were few surprises in the series finale.
About the only unscripted moment comes when an older man in a black leather jacket approaches Leno at the end of his handshaking ritual with the audience. The man stands at the edge of the stage for several seconds and says something unintelligible to the host. Whatever he says, but it doesn’t appear to affect Leno one way or the other.
The jokes in Leno’s monologue are typically self-effacing and, in and in many cases, at NBC’s expense. As the audience goes wild with applause, Leno says, “Where were you the last five months? That’s what I want to know.”
He gets the rest of the NBC jokes out of the way before moving on to the regular jokes, “This is our last Jay Leno Show, Kev. The show was supposed to last two years. But my sentence was reduced to five months for good behavior.” Followed by, “We were on the air five months. It seems like just yesterday I was telling NBC, ‘This is not going to work.'” And then, “People say, ‘What has changed the most in five months?’ I’d have to say Heidi Montag.” And finally, “Five months! Do you realize that guys on Viagra have had erections that lasted longer than that?”
After the monologue, Leno segues into a mock retrospective of the best moments from the show’s short run. The clips included Leno noticing that his parking spot expires on February 9th, Kayne West punching him and walking out during the premiere show interview, and Leno forgetting that he no longer has a desk and now has to wear pants during interviews. The bit finishes with some Celebrity Apprentice cross-promotion. Via satellite, Donald Trump tells Leno, “You’re fired.”
In the first interview of the night, guest Ashton Kutcher admits that the whole late night debacle was part of Leno being Punk’d. He said, “I have to admit something to you. I know this is the last show and I think it’s fitting that I come on the last show because this whole Tonight Show, earlier show, thing, was a punk… Six years ago, I sat in the offices at NBC… Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the cameras but I thought I’d come out now for the big reveal… It’ll all cool off now that everybody knows.”
Kutcher then goes on to talk about his exploits attending the Super Bowl and losing thousands in a bet. After some more chit-chat, Leno “surprises” Kutcher with recent retiree Kurt Warner. The two toss a football back and forth, with Kutcher being hampered by weather conditions — first wind and leaves, then fake snow, and finally by cold “rain” courtesy of a garden hose.
The next guest is recent Best Actress nominee Gabourney Sidibe, talking about her role in the movie Precious and how her life has changed. She shares that she essentially went on one audition and is now nominated for an Oscar.
For Leno’s last 10@10 segment, he interviews Bob Costas who’s leading NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. Costas tells several cute anecdotes, including one about being mistaken for different sportscasters, including Bryant Gumbel. He also shows off his lucky charm, a Mickey Mantle baseball card that he always carries with him. When asked about being the final participant of 10@10, Costas comments that it’s “like being involved in the last broadcast of a Clippers season.”
Leno runs out of time after that and barely has time to ask the audience to (please) stay tuned for the local news. Would Leno have had some parting comments or messages for the audience about the show? We may never know but, no matter. Before you know it, he’ll be right back.
What do you think? Was The Jay Leno Show as bad as everyone says? Was it “the biggest bomb in TV history?”
Image courtesy NBC.