I heartily agree with Richard’s post on CoCo and The Tonight Show.
I think Jay Leno is pretty much unfunny. He was a lame successor to Johnny Carson, and I think when he took over The Tonight Show he tarnished the brand of that show. It used to be “must see” TV for anyone staying up after 11:30 on a weeknight. You would watch Carson’s monologue, see who he had on as guests that night, and probably stay tuned until at least midnight.
Carson was one of the five most classic TV personalities of all time. Indeed, he was one of the few TV figures of my youth who probably would still be tremendously popular today. Unlike many of the stars of the early days of television, Carson was not active, but reactive. He might occasionally get a pie in the face, but for the most part Carson’s humor was laid back and responsive. The great laughs on The Tonight Show were typically due to Carson’s priceless reactions to a bad monologue joke, to a bird perching on his head and taking a dump, to Ed Ames inadvertently hurling a tomahawk into some outlined figure’s crotch, or to George Gobel unwittingly getting ashes flicked into his drink by a lubed-up Dean Martin.
Leno is different. He is more like a vaudeville comic who mugs for the camera. He doesn’t have the sly, sardonic reactions that made Carson so well-suited to the TV medium. Conan O’Brien, in contrast, does have that quality. He is comfortable behind the host’s desk, and is willing to let his guest be funny or interesting, without intruding. Conan is a “cool” figure, is great at reaction, and clearly is more consistently funny than Leno.
I’m not surprised that Leno’s prime time show was a dismal failure, and I think it is criminal that NBC is going to push The Tonight Show back to give Leno some late-night time. I say: “I’m with CoCo! Give him a chance!”