If you were expecting Jay Leno to shake up the talk-show format and really change the television landscape with his 10 PM chatfest, you were likely sorely disappointed last evening. That said, if you are a Leno fan and wanted more of what he was doing on The Tonight Show, except earlier, then your wish has been granted. His new primetime talk show debuted yesterday, and for all the chatter about him having fewer guests and really switching things up, it was almost identical to his previous format. The only big changes were the lack of a desk (instead he's got two small and uncomfortable looking chairs on a carpet in the middle of the studio) and that he saved "Headlines" for the end. Way to mix it up, Jay.
He started his night with a loud thunderous applause from a very enthusiastic audience, then delved into his monologue, which was filled with his typical brand of current events humor. Naturally the car junkie couldn't miss an opportunity to cash in with a crack about the cash for clunkers program. Then he did a Cheaters parody, which wasn't particularly original or amusing. They had three months to come up with some really great stuff for this premiere episode to get people hooked, or sway the dissenters, and this is the best the writing staff had to offer?
Jay introduced Kevin Eubanks and the Primetime Band. Slight name change -- maybe that was the big difference? Jay talked about his upcoming guests for the night: Seinfeld, Kanye West and Dan Finnerty. He was excited about Kanye West because when you have a daily show, you can ask topical questions. Really? I had no idea that was how television or talk shows were supposed to work. Also, if you have time off you can discover things, like movies that came out three months ago, and then get people from that movie to be on your show. Hence, Dan Finnerty (of the Dan Band) -- you'd know him as the wedding singer in The Hangover. Wow. I like Dan Finnerty, but the segment that followed was painfully unfunny. He (and his band) went to a local car wash, accosted some poor girl and then sang to her while her car was getting washed. Yeah, that happened.
Thankfully, the highlight of humor for the night came in the form of Jerry Seinfeld. Thank goodness. Seinfeld (who sported a tux with a bowtie for the occasion) asked why he was doing the first show, when Jay supposedly just retired. "In the '90s, when we quit a show, we actually left, but not in the Brett Favre/Lance Armstrong double O's. We take a long weekend and then we come right back," cracked Seinfeld. That was the first thing that made me laugh and it was at least 20 minutes in, and was from a guest who by trade is a stand-up comedian.
Seinfeld thought Jay could have done better for his first show, and then said that he'd heard Leno had wanted Oprah but couldn't get her. So on a video screen comes Oprah. To me this segment looked pre-taped, especially since Jerry asked all the questions, but I guess it is possible that it was live via satellite, but I'm doubtful. After the Oprah bit ended, Jerry says that he's going to get a talk show at 9 PM on NBC since he actually has the clout to get good guests. Jerry, I love you, but don't give NBC any more ideas, okay?
Leno asked Jerry about the whole wife-lawsuit thing, and Jerry explained that the muffin-stealing case got thrown out and now he doesn't have to explain to the kids why mommy is in the big house. Which led to boring nattering on about relationships and Mark Sanford jokes that felt about a hundred years old. They finally mentioned the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but really only in passing and they don't even show a clip, and then Jerry was gone.
Then the show switched up the format by throwing in a "funny" video of Jay interviewing President Obama, cutting from a real Obama interview to Jay asking made-up questions. I've seen better fake interviews by teenagers on the internet.
Then Kanye came on. If you don't know why this is a big deal, click here. Jay told the troubled rapper that he appreciates the fact that he honored his commitment even though he's currently embroiled in a controversy of his own making. I thought that was kind. Kanye apologized for being rude to Taylor Swift and said that he's about helping people and doing what he thinks is right, and his actions at the VMAs were very wrong. Leno asked when he knew he made a mistake and Kanye said about the time he gave Swift back the mic and she stood there speechless. He continued to say that he'd like to help her in the future if possible, and he'd really like to apologize to her in person. It seemed genuine. He's often one to shoot his mouth off too easily, and the large bottle of alcohol he was carrying around likely didn't help matters.
Then Jay (who claimed to have met West's mother at some point) asked Kanye what his mother would have thought. The rapper sat silent on the verge of tears, until Jay asks if his mom would have been disappointed. He started tearing up and seemed speechless -- clearly this was off of his planned apology segment -- and then he basically said that he's really sorry and needs time off to reevaluate his life because he never really took time off when his mother passed away. He thinks that his mom's death and his lack of downtime have contributed to his recent meltdown. It may or may not be true, but to me it seemed like he is actually contrite. Maybe I'm just a softie for weepy guys.
And then after his emotional outburst, West had to go perform a musical number with Jay-Z and Rhianna. They did "Run This Town."
The evening wound down anticlimactically with Leno's trademark "Headlines." I'll admit that of all the bits he does, this is probably my favorite because I love driving by a movie theater with titles misspelled in humorous ways and whatnot. But this time it seemed to be filled with particularly immature dick and poon jokes, which is sort of par for the course, but I thought maybe he'd go a bit classier for his debut night. Guess not.
All in all, it's pretty much the same Jay Leno, just instead of having his show be branded with the legendary Tonight Show name, it bears his own name, and instead of being on at 11:30 PM, it's now at 10 PM, taking up valuable primetime real estate. That's really what still bothers me about this whole thing. Yes, I know he's got his legions of fans and there's a place for that, but does it really have to be during primetime every single weeknight? I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get past that.
If you missed the episode, you can watch it below.
What did you think of Leno's debut? Sound off below.
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