Obviously, there were plenty of expectations going into last night’s episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. People were already upset by the simple fact of the show’s existence, as it was a painful* reminder of the Late Night Wars of just a few short month(s) ago. To many people, the firing of Conan O’Brien**, and the petulant crybaby “triumph” of Jay Leno was genuinely disheartening, and bewildering. Was a failing network in desperate need for an injection of fresh ideas seriously going to bank their future on a 60-year-old antique car enthusiast with a denim fetish? And Jay Leno’s impossibly obnoxious on-air promos did not help. You should get back to where you once belonged, Jay Leno, which is JAIL. But, so, some people (could have been anyone really, there’s no point in naming names) went into last night’s episode already expecting to dislike it. But even for these anti-Jay Leno mouth-foamers, it would have been impossible to anticipate just how bad this thing would be. It was surprising! What a dismal and depressing failure in American Entertainment. And what a sad and lonely death for the Tonight Show.

Before getting to the “new” set, the show opened with a pre-taped segment in which Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks and pals did a Wizard of Oz parody (timely!) about Jay Leno returning “home” after a long nightmare. Perfect. It was stupid and worn out and insulting and arrogant, and it also included a guest cameo by Betty White (making jokes about NBC cutting Jay’s budget, because he is RAW CLASS). Ouch. I mean, I don’t really care about Betty White either way, but that is actually a clever smack in the face to the Internet by Jay. I CAN HAZ UR HEROES. To be honest, I don’t understand the recent surge in Betty White popularity. She seems fine? She seems like a very nice lady? But I have a feeling all of her ironic grassroots Facebook groups lost a few followers last night. If it’s even possible for an 87-year-old to sell out, then she just did. The world is at war, Betty White, and you have chosen your side. It is the side of the old, and it will lose. This I promise. Because it always does.

But for now: the show begins.

So, Jay Leno comes out, and the “new” Tonight Show set is just a gussied up The Jay Leno Show set. WHOOOOOOPS. Now, just to remind people of the failed The Jay Leno Show experiment, this was NBC’s revolutionary attempt to remain competitive in the 10PM time slot against the other major networks for the daily cost of a sleeve of Lender’s frozen raisin bagels. I mean, the main focus of the Jay Leno Show was to save money. So the set is a low rent garbage disaster. It looks like Jay Leno walked into a dollar store and said “I’ll buy the whole store,” and the owner was like, “you don’t have enough money to do that. Here are some AAA batteries and a bouquet of silk flowers.” It’s basically Cutty’s Gym from The Wire, if Cutty was trying to keep kids out the game by teaching them how to do terribly unfunny interview segments. What I’m trying to say is that The Jay Leno Show was littered with problems from the very beginning, and the time slot was THE LEAST OF THE SHOW’S PROBLEMS. Hauling a failure back an hour and a half and putting a potted plant in the corner doesn’t hide the obvious fact that it is a failure.

And why didn’t you tell me that your boyfriend got tickets?

There’s not a lot of point to ripping into Jay Leno’s monologue, since monologues themselves are an unappealing, arcane structure for delivering jokes, and Jay Leno’s monologue is the arcanest and unappealinget of them all. But it is worth noting that he made jokes about Russia, Alan Greenspan being boring, and the presidency of George W. Bush, because his finger is almost TOO on the pulse. And then, on his first night back as the host of the Tonight Show, one of the most venerated programs in the history of American broadcasting and comedy, Jay Leno introduced a new segment:

WOOOOOOF. It’s true that the pants were very tight, I guess? It could have been worse, it could have been The Beer Pong Play of the Week. But this is the thing that gets me about Jay Leno: he has had 17+ years to do SOMETHING with his show, and it’s just nothing. There is nothing there. Jaywalking? Right. Because he invented “man on the street” jokes. That is the most ancient shit! Funny headlines? Seriously, he has not invented one original or interesting comedic premise. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which celebrated its one year anniversary last night, has created more unique premises in its very short time on the air than Jay Leno has in his historically long time on the air. “Let Us Play with Your Look.” 7th Floor West. “Slow Jamming the News.” Lots of great stuff. And that is coming from someone who was very (very) critical of Jimmy Fallon when he was announced for the job, and still thinks there are lots of ways in which the show can grow and improve, but the point is that in one short year he (and his incredibly talented writing staff) has ESTABLISHED himself with a strong comedic voice in late night television. Jay Leno is just a high-pitched whine.

Ugh, and then came the fucking desk. Jay Leno needs a new desk! Because he got rid of the desk for The Jay Leno Show and that is why it failed (he tells himself). America loves desks! So he did a segment in which he went around to normal Americans’ homes looking at their desks and making fun of their dietary habits. He teased one mom for feeding her children KFC. Cool! What a cool guy. Very funny, very nice, very smart, and VERY cool. The segment included cameos by Adam Corolla and Randy Jackson. CAN YOU IMAGINE? Having Randy Jackson and Jay Leno in your house at the same time? You’d probably die from excitement because it would just be TOO neat.

Finally, Jay decided on a desk, and it is seriously a stupid piece of shit.

Seriously! I’m not just lashing out at the desk because of how much I hate this show and its host. That is seriously a piece of crap desk. That is the type of desk that someone has in their house because their son made it when he was in juvenile detention and it’s a symbol of how hard he has worked to be a member of the family again. Yuck. And do you see what I am saying about this set? With, like, those bullshit gears in the background? WHAT ARE THOSE? This show looks like it was filmed in the lobby of a hotel that you were forced to stay in for a boring work trip because every other hotel in town was overbooked due to a Plumbing Industry Conference. “What is your earliest check out time?”

Jay Leno’s very first guest in his triumphant and all-important return to the hallowed and storied Tonight Show is…Jamie Foxx.

This was the best you could do? A human nightmare with no particular project to even promote, who had the nerve on last night’s show to happily announce that his daughter was turning 16 when just a few short months ago he told 16-year-old Miley Cyrus to get gum-reduction surgery and try heroin on his satellite radio show? Fuck him. And fuck you, Jay Leno. His second guest was Lindsey Vonn, whose husband is also her trainer, so you can just imagine the type of humorous GOLD that Jay Leno was able to mine from that relationship. He is a comedian second, but a gentleman first. Just kidding. Jay Leno is an asshole.

His guest tonight, of course, is Sarah Palin. SHUT IT DOWN. SHUT IT ALL DOWN.

Goodbye, the Tonight Show! I mean, seriously, it’s obviously over. Between your junkyard set and your smug-as-fuuuuuuck host and your sinking ship vibe (survivors and all), even if you take back the late night ratings from David Letterman, which I have every reason to believe you might, Brawndo does, after all, have the electrolytes our bodies crave, it won’t REALLY matter. I mean, honestly, television ratings? Those are the new fossil record. Last night’s depressing and disheartening episode of The Tonight Show had the stink of DEATH on it.

So let’s bury it.

*Look, yes, we all know that Conan O’Brien’s firing from the Tonight Show was a trifle in the realm of Genuine Human Suffering. There are places in the world where people need to walk over buried and forgotten minefields in order to access clean drinking water. We all know this. But at the same time, for enthusiastic consumers of pop culture like myself, and like, I am assuming, many of you, there was actually some form of “pain” in this whole thing. It suggested a sad and stupid world with its priorities in all the wrong places. Not that we didn’t already know this, since you’d think CLEANING UP ALL THOSE LAND MINES would be one of those priorities, but you get my point.
**My only regret throughout this whole thing is that I could not follow Conan’s inspiring call to not be cynical. I’m sorry that I have failed you, Conan O’Brien. But I AM VERY CYNICAL ABOUT THIS. It’s especially hard when even your wonderful speech from your final episode has been SCRUBBED FROM THE INTERNET by the Mensas at NBC.
Comments (104)
  1. If Jay mailed me a letter, this is what I’d do.

  2. maybe we’re being a little premature with this. he should get, at the minimum, another decade to find his voice. only seems fair.

  3. “I’m ah NBC appointed fedehral asshole.” -Jay Leno, always

    (That joke is still cool, right?)

  4. This an excellent excuse for all good monsters to be in bed promptly at 11:35. Let’s all get our rest!

  5. Jay Leno is the new cancer (and by cancer, I mean something that is universally agreed upon as antagonistic to the progress of the human race… but some people are into it).

  6. I thought this was a really good show………FOR ME TO POOP ON!

  7. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Sure, yes, agreed, no duh. But my point is that while this whole thing is a disagreement among millionaires, it does actually speak to people who have ambitions and dreams and goals, and it doesn’t have nice things to say to those people. I can’t speak for Conan, but I’d like to think that he would rather be hosting the Tonight Show than have 35 million dollars, and that does still mean something in this world. On a scale of human importance this is very low, and I don’t think anyone is actually that confused about it, and perhaps the Internet, in its tendency towards hyperbole and making the unimportant the most important has overstated the case. But also kind of not. This does actually suck, for real.

      • I hate to disagree with anything that appears on Videogum, because it’s my favourite website (seriously), but I honestly do not know a single person in real life that watches late-night-television. I don’t understand coverage and opinions about things like SNL and all the talkshows at night. Every single one seems an outdated commercial for the boring things celebs promote.

        It could just be the people I know, but late-night-TV is not on the cultural radar.

        But I will still read all the coverage, because I am Videogum like that.

        • Maybe we don’t watch late-night TV because of Leno? To the extent that those hours seem all Brawndo, it is largely his fault. Downthread, usedwig refers to Carson’s “mystique,” and yeah — I remember feeling like something intangible was going on with Carson. Even just his face under that Karnak hat, looking like he wasn’t sure how he’d been put up to this but he was going to go ahead and act the part… There is nothing intangible about Leno. The last Leno I ever watched was his interview with Rima Domow (!!!), late 1995 or early 96 — she made a joke and he turned to the camera and explained it. A COMEDIAN TURNED TO HIS AUDIENCE AND EXPLAINED A JOKE. The death of funny, right there. Coco might have turned that around, brought real (surreal?) laughs the way he has ever since The Monorail, maybe reestablished the (fake, sure) sense of family/intimacy that Carson got right. It kind of goes to what sort of civilization you want: one where the jokes are explained, or one where you’re trusted? There’s more at stake than money and boring things celebs promote. / soapbox.

          • I appreciate everyone’s thoughts here about this. I feel like a (daily) late night variety show is an out-dated concept, but obviously Leno is terrrrrrible.

        • For some people who watch and enjoy late night TV this whole debacle has stirred up resentment and criticism for NBC because these people have some stake in late night TV. Now, for the people like you and me (along with your friends) who don’t watch late night TV this chain of events should stir up criticism and resentment not because we want to see one guy host a show instead of the other guy, but because it’s so obviously AN ASSHOLE BEING AN ASSHOLE TO A DECENT GUY AND GETTING AWAY WITH IT. This isn’t about late night TV. This is about how Jay Leno is an asshole.

        • I think you’re right, aniktwo–and as Gabe pointed out, Leno is definitely helping to kill the dying beast. I sort of hope Conan (whatever his childhood dreams…) decides to forgo a new late night gig (WHY does the word gig get used in this context so much? It seems so natural, but why?) and do something less 19th century with his talents.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

        • As another non-watcher of late night TV (so interested spectator rather than active protester), I think it is about more than time slots! The issue as I see it is one of the integrity of public personalities. You took a risk, signed a contract to launch your own show, then find out you don’t have enough funny to hold the public interest? Either come up with the goods or get out of the game! Don’t oust your successor to get your old job back.
          Its not that I expect celebrities to have integrity, but I am still actively surprised when they demonstrate a complete lack of it.

    • What the fuck are you talking about?

    • It’s symbolic of both a generational and cultural division, and highlights at least some of the ways these groups do not understand each other. So, at the very least it’s kind of interesting I think.

    • ahaha Hidden, it’s not like I was trolling or something. Videogum is so ridiculous sometimes.

  8. “Stupid Desk”

    Is that joke still cool too?

  9. What I still don’t get is that how a person, a so called MAN, who screwed over two men (Letterman and Carson) to get where he wants can still come groveling back to the network that fired him, TWICE. And then come crawling back for his own selfish, egotistical, “every-man persona” needs. FOR SHAME JAY, FOR SHAME.

  10. In other news Judah Friedlander was on Jimmy Fallon Show and he has a Lost parody called Late that will be a recurring segment. Oh and he also had Edward from Twilight promoting a non sparkling movie and it was the one year anniversary of the show which originally premiered after The Tonight Show with Jay Leno…

  11. What’s the ETA on Juliet banging that nuke with a rock?

    This time line sucks.

  12. At least he didn’t have a bit on the worlds tightest bad idea jeans? Although, this entire show might be the worlds tightest bad idea jeans. So, never mind, I guess.

  13. “This week’s Taking One for the Team: Joe plays a drinking game to the Sarah Palin Tonight Show appearance!”

    Suggested rules:
    -drink every time someone says something or does something that makes you cringe
    -i.e. drink all the time

  14. I don’t understand why anyone would watch this including Gabe. Don’t give it any attention and it will go away.

  15. That desk does look like it was made out of some sort of wood fastened together by the pulpy tears of a failed woodworker, finished with a varnish of gaudy dispair that just makes everyone uncomfortable.

  16. I might change my opinion of the show if he did all his interviews from a racecar bed…cause he likes cars and he’s lazy?

  17. Even though Conan and his staff absolutely got a raw deal, I’ve never much cared about The Tonight Show over the years. I agree with Louis CK that the show has never really earned the reverence so many comics (including Conan) seem to have for it as some kind of sacred franchise. I remember watching it in the ’80s (waiting for Letterman) and thinking that Johnny Carson was kind of a bore, that his monologues and recurring bits were mostly awful (does anyone else remember his Carnac the Magnificent character? no? it SUCKED), and that Ed McMahon had no reason to exist whatsoever. It was always packaged as a comedically bland show…it had occasional exciting guests and gave a lot of great comedians their first real shot, which is great. It was a good launching pad. But now there are a lot of other venues that do that, and do it much better, and take a lot more risks doing it. So yeah, let’s just let this thing die if that’s what it wants to do, or hobble along for the aging population that seems to get some kind of comfort from its continued existence. Whatever, let’s just move on.

  18. could you make it so that i can see the comment ratings without signing in???

  19. I had to sign up for an account just to say that Gabe’s post is brilliant. And that reading this at work is not a good idea.

  20. Wait wait wait wait… you guys watched it? I thought we were boycotting for Coco? I cringe to think that the ratings were higher, so no watching it for me.

  21. Oh man, I watched this shit. Like, just his fucking shitty smirk pissed me off. I think if I had been there I might have rushed the stage and gone nutz haha. I couldn’t handle the first part of the show, I already hate Leno, but then Jamie Foxx? Ugh. Poor Lindsey Vonn. Also, nice American flag backdrop, Brad Paisley. We get it.

  22. all i want to say is: wheel of carpet samples FTW

  23. The mystique and hard-to-grasp aura of The Tonight Show vanished the instant “the denim clad nightmare monster” took over in the 90s. I love that Gabe is insanely fired up over this, as am I. His tweets during the show are gold. I am vastly more offended by the middling, mediocre corn-pone, pandering, right-leaning hokum that Leno and the worst offender ever, Al (fat doesn’t mean funny) Roker, dish out than the likes of Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia and puppet comics.

    Remember when Johnny Carson just walked away and never reappeared? How cool was that? Best limelight exit ever.

    Leno’s reappearance is maddening, but I do need to split my hatred time between Leno loathing and that fucking Seinfeld Ref show. Besides the smug, overly scripted lines exploding all over the place, the sexy cartoon version of Jerry’s wife bothered me the most. Last time I checked, she was still a 4. I thank Gabe again, for staying on top of this show also.

    Back to Jay, I don’t care Conan lost “The Tonight Show,” I just care that he lost “his” show. Coco will be back with a vengeance… screaming for vengeance… must now go put on some Judas Priest… then go slash the tires of some classic cars.

    Oh, and screw the ephemeral cult of Betty White (yay, beer commercial!). Allen Ludden was the true talent in that pair.

    • Betty White love is not about internet cultishness or irony. It is about being old enough to remember when none of the adults would watch the Golden Girls with you, and not for one second of your entire life thinking it was anything but the greatest show of all time.

      To recap: Chuck Norris is a Republican d-bag who is funny because the internet. David Hasselhoff is a sad drunk who is “funny” because the internet(is mean)! Betty White is just fucking great.

      I may be gay.

  24. “He is a comedian second, but a gentleman first. Just kidding. Jay Leno is an asshole.” If those were the last two sentences Gabe ever wrote, I think we would all agree that Gabe went out like a true champion.

  25. I gotta say, since the site relaunch, I’ve been feeling the littlest bit alienated from VG, just dipping my toes back in here and there and not really reading much. This obituary was EXACTLY what I needed. Feels so good to be home!

  26. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  27. kudos for working Lender’s bagels into a post. go Lender’s™

  28. Well, one good thing about this whole mess is that it’s given us a real, valid reason to hate Jay Leno. I used to just be like, “hmm…that guy seems like a smug, self-satisfied fucker,” and my friends would be like “nah, jay-walking is kind of funny.” Now I could be like, “told ya so!” …if I still had those friends.

  29. I didn’t watch (obv), but the whole time I was getting the live-tweets I was thinking to myself: “Thank god I don’t have to suffer through watching shit like this for a living.” I think Gabe really T14TT last night.

  30. When this whole debacle was going on, I picked up “The Late Shift” from the library (it’s the book about the Leno-Letterman fight over “The Tonight Show”, and YES, I am the last person on Earth to go to the library). The book doesn’t make either of those guys sound like great people, but there’s one scene that really sticks out for me – Leno, hiding in an executive’s closet, eavesdropping in on a conversation about “The Tonight Show”. I’ll always have that weird mental image of him crouching in a dark closet. It’s a good characterization of one of the author’s points about Leno’s personality – that he was sort of spineless and sort of an idiot to boot. The author also mentions Leno’s inability to show any sort of emotion, which definitely comes across in the bits and jokes in “The Tonight Show”. Conan (and even Jimmy Fallon, to some extent) had some passion for his work, and it showed.

    • I loved the Late Shift movie, didn’t know it was a book. And shame on you for thinking you’re the last person to go to the library. The Librarians of America (not a thing) thank you for your support, though.

  31. I would rather paint my house than watch Jay Leno.

  32. Everyone who isn’t NBC: Her?

  33. Haha Idiocracy reference

  34. With Sarah Palin and Jay Leno both currently in the same location, does that mean the world’s delegation of awful people has to hide its third highest ranking member away somewhere in a secret bunker in case the studio gets bombed?

  35. Charlie Rose gets the best weed.

  36. Just one picky point here: Conan O’Brien did not get fired. Jay Leno got fired. He’s the one who had his show cancelled. Conan quit, in an act of throwing himself on the grenade Jeff Zucker planted in the Tonight Show. He chose to quit his job rather than be part of the The Tonight Show’s destruction. To say that he was fired cheapens the sacrifice he made for the sake of his own integrity, and the promises he made to Johnny Carson before he took over the show.

    • He quit in the sense that it was either 1205 or nothing, so he quit, but he didnt technically quit since he didnt want the 1205, he got fired, hence the money in severance. If he quit he wouldnt have received that money, which also helped him give money to his staff members that were getting screwed out of the deal. He got $40mill overall but $32.75 or something like that at the end because that difference went to his staff. Just sayin..

  37. GREAT piece. Funny and smart and observant. Great job Gabe. The people have spoken. The Chin might be funny to grandmaw in Idaho, but Conan is the future. He and his staff are creative, edgy and just plain hilarious. Old man Leno certainly never came up with the classic bits that Conan, Andy, Max, Smigel etc. ever came up with. Leno ever have a character as great as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog? I think NOT!!! Other writers of note on Conan’s shows include Louie C.K., Demitri Martin, Dino Stamatopolous of Mr. Show and Community fame and too many more to list. The people have spoken. Leno is DONE !!!

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