I would never have known this, because the network gave it so little publicity, but apparently there is some new show starting tonight at 10 p.m., starring a large-chinned comedian of some sort. I will watch it now and jot down anything that comes to mind. Headlines may be involved.
– I don’t think I’m qualified to explain the differences between the new set and Leno’s old Tonight Show set. I know, physically, that they’re not the same, but there’s not a whole lot of difference. I feel like the new one looks a bit like Bob Saget’s old America’s Funniest Home Videos set, but it may be that the shows themselves are similar.
– Except for the brief joke about the endless promos for the show, Leno makes no attempt to explain the format of the new show or to talk about the controversies behind it. Instead he says that “we’ve been off the air for 3 months,” implying that this is the same show as The Tonight Show, and launches almost immediately into his standard monologue, which should continue for approximately the next 379 minutes. (Someday I’m going to time Leno’s monologues and a past-his-prime Bob Hope monologue to see which one is longer and which one has fewer good jokes. He came very close to saying “I wanna tell ya” just now; he didn’t quite say it, but his transformation into Bob Hope is almost complete). Honestly, I think this is the right move for Leno — I mean, just going into his monologue and not trying to justify the show or the format. Conan O’Brien really did try to address the issue of whether he should be hosting The Tonight Show, whether he belongs in L.A., and it just made him look weak. Leno is dull, but strong and confident. His audience doesn’t like to see neurosis.
– The problem with Twitter is that it’s faster than live-blogging, so everyone on that site — well, specifically, Memles and Poniewozik has already pointed out the obvious: the Cheaters segment would have been funnier if Kevin had been “cheating” with Conan O’Brien. But it makes sense that it would be a Leno impersonator instead. Leno isn’t about to acknowledge O’Brien’s existence, at least not right up front. The whole show so far has been dedicated to the proposition that nothing has changed, he just went on a three-month vacation and then came back with the same show at a different time, and that he is still the only real NBC talk-show host.
– And he’s back from the commercial. Brief reference to the new set, but apart from that he’s still acting like nothing has changed. That is the theme of the whole night.
– Out comes Dan Finnerty, Kathy Najimy’s husband, to introduce his “field piece.” Immediately we know the difference between these field segments (which are going to be the part of the show that is slightly different from the old one) and the ones on The Daily Show or the ones where Conan sends himself out into the field. Those segments are intended to make the comedian look like an idiot. Sometimes on TDS, they may make someone else (politicians, authority figures) look like an idiot, but in these segments, the comedian is supposed to be a cool guy, acting idiotic to make other people uncomfortable. The supposed friendliness of Leno masks the fact that his show is, in its humour, probably the nastiest of all talk shows. And it looks like we’re in for many more segments where ordinary people are humiliated or made to squirm. — I’m writing all this analysis because I have nothing else to do during this segment. Certainly not laugh. My God, it’s still going on, and I’ve already written this whole paragraph.
– So that’s going to be his new thing: sitting in a chair instead of a desk. It looks weird, but I have to give it to him: it’s the first thing I’ve seen on the show that looks vaguely unexpected.
– Jerry Seinfeld (probably with Leno’s tacit approval) finally brings up the fact that Leno “left” and then didn’t leave, though in such a way that it makes Leno sound good (like the world’s greatest workaholic or something).
– I thought the interview was going to an interesting, somewhat awkward place when they started talking about the fact that Seinfeld is no longer all that big a star. But it turned out to just be a segue into a pre-recorded, pre-rehearsed Oprah bit.
– One of the themes of the night, underlying themes I mean, is that Leno is incapable of self-deprecating humour. (Even the oldest self-deprecation joke in the book, the one about how nobody knows when the show is on, is given not to Leno but to Oprah and Seinfeld. Leno just can’t put himself down, at least not on his first episode.) But again, that may be a good strategy, given how Conan O’Brien’s relentless self-deprecation has not played that well with the broad audience.
– The take an interview with a politician and splice in new questions” bit is pretty reliable, and this version isn’t too bad by the standards of the rest of the evening, though I think Leno is straining so hard to keep the political jokes non-controversial. I know that’s his style, but in this era, trying to make political jokes without touching on any specific issues is… not impossible, but it’s hard to imagine that anybody really enjoys it any more. (Even Leno’s audience likes it better when he can get specific about a politician, usually by talking about some sex scandal or something else that doesn’t leave him open to charges of partisanship.)
– I’m surprised that the musical acts are being pushed to the end of the show, just like on late night. I had thought that they were going to avoid this, for the sake of the 11 p.m. news. Maybe people will stick around because it’s Kanye, but if they’re going to leave the music this late, then people who don’t like the music will tune out, the way they do on the 11:30 shows. And while nobody cares if people stick around for Fallon or Ferguson, affiliates need the 11 p.m. news to do well. If the show does well tonight, it may still be considered a failure if the scheduling hurts the ratings of the local news.
– Leno is trying hard to manufacture a Moment here, and I hope it doesn’t work, because the manipulativeness of it is offensive. If West had truly done something terrible and was apologizing for it, then it might be a real Moment. But he acted like an idiot on an awards show, and NBC/Leno are trying to play this as if this was a life-and-death thing, and used West’s late mother as a prop. It made me feel sorry for West, which I suppose is an achievement on Leno’s part, but it certainly didn’t make me like Jay.
– Further to the thing about the scheduling: the idea seems to be that by leaving “Headlines” until the very end, they will keep people from tuning out. That depends, I suppose, on whether people like “Headlines” more than they hate the music. My suspicion, not based on anything empirical, is that people who usually leave when the music starts will not change that pattern just because “Headlines” is coming on. But we’ll see. I still think they need to do a better job of placing the musical act and the guest.
– And now here’s “Headlines.” Amazing how they expect people to hang around for this thing, but in its combination of fake common-man-itude (see, I chuckle at the same things you do in the morning, like headline typos!) and mean-spiritedness (let’s laugh at the people who make mistakes! also, his contempt for people who live in small towns is really palpable; any “elitist” comedian is far nicer about that) it is the definitive Leno routine, along with “Jaywalking,” which we will presumably see sometime this week when I’m not watching. (Hey: “We’ll see it when I’m not watching!” That’s a malapropism! Make fun of me, Leno!)