Glazer: Sayonara, Jay Leno

jcarson15Sixty years of the Tonight Show

How appropriate that 60 Minutes did a lengthy special on Jay Leno Sunday.  For starters, Leno deserves it. And secondly, the number 60 is quite fitting since this is the 60th year of the Tonight Show, easily the longest running late night talk show in television history.

No way could Steve Allen have suspected that his unique late night talk show format that debuted in 1954 would become the longest running show of its kind ever.  And there have been more hosts to this legendary late night show than one might imagine.

Older Baby Boomers probably remember Allen and Jack Paar but may not recall other hosts that included Jerry Lewis, Bill Cullen, Mort Sahl, Groucho Marks and Ernie Kovacs, all of whom lead to arrival of the ultimate late night king, Johnny Carson in 1962.

I don’t think anyone over maybe 30 would argue that point.

Even today when people hear “Tonight Show,” many still think of Carson.  Johnny did the show for 30 years and left on his own accord in 1992.  For those of us who saw his final show, we still can remember how heartfelt and sad it was to see this giant of television say goodbye.

AA015292At the end of Carson’s goodbye speech he thanked us for letting him into our homes all those years and said he hoped to find something meaningful and a good reason to come back and visit us again in the near future.  Sadly that never happened.  Johnny did make a brief appearance on David Letterman who most thought was the heir apparent.  Instead Leno got the gig.

In defense of Jay, replacing a legend like Carson would have been an uphill battle for anybody.  Not only that but by that time, the late night numbers were already down, mostly owing to the competition from cable television. So all things considered, Leno did a damn good job of holding down the fort.

RicklesSinatraandCarsonLeno has been accused of being a huckster for Network Television shows and stars whose movies were debuting the week they appeared on the show.  He also was tagged with not wanting to promote new comedians and entertainers the way Carson did.  Johnny was known for rekindling the career of people like Rodney Dangerfield, introducing Richard Pryor to a mainstream audience and hosting loveable sidekicks that added to the water cooler talks the next day. People like Don Rickles, Red Buttons, Burt Reynolds, Joey Bishop, Joan Rivers, David Brenner – even loveable loser George Gobel.  Johnny got a kick out of having his friends on the show often.

And Carson loved to let his guests pick on each other.  All those memorable friendly arguments between guys like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and even Dean Martin were off the chain. Johnny even had George Burns on all the time.  Carson was famous for giving young, relatively unknown comics a shot.  Including a young George Carlin and an older Jonathan Winters.

Johnny even had my then girlfriend Sandahl Bergman from Kansas City on for a sword fight and interview promoting her film Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And while Jay Leno been accused of being less friendly to up and coming comics, he’s certainly had his share on the show.  We at Stanford’s know because there’s a long list of comedians who have performed here after appearing on the show.  In fact, in just the past two weeks we’ve had two Leno alums,  including Kira Soltanovich who started with Leno eight years ago.

Kira and Chelsea Handler had a hit TV show on E! called Girls Behaving Badly.  Leno brought her in to do a regular bit called The Phony Photo Booth, which led to her doing stand up on the show and finally getting her own panel of comics on with Jay regularly.  Kira did her last Tonight Show a week ago Monday.

“I respect, admire and love Jay Leno, he gave me a big break,” she told me. “He’s a sweet, kind man.  What I like most is that he gives you his phone number and when you call it, he actually answers.”

Last week, comic Chris Franjola – who now stars in two television series including After Lately – praised Leno saying, “Jay still has a way with the MidWestern audiences. Maybe one of his weaknesses was not being able to grab the love from New York and other big cities, unlike Johnny Carson.”

On 60 Minutes, Jay made it clear he has no plans, other than to care for his massive classic car collection at the Burbank Airport in two hangars worth over a $100 million.  Jay was offered another late night show and other options, but reportedly said, “There is no redoing the Tonight Show, it’s done.”

jimmy_fallon_jay_leno_a_hJimmy Fallon is a talented young comedian and will recreate the Tonight Show in his own image.

Times have changed, with social media, video games and services like Netflix and Hulu Plus and more than a thousand other cable choices. There will never be a 20 million viewership to the Tonight Show like Carson once had, and probably not even the three to five million viewers Leno once had.

There was something warm and fuzzy – almost the American Way of Life – during the Tonight Show’s hey days with Johnny Carson. A time when even kids would race home on their bikes to watch Carson and Don Rickles go at it. Or Rickles making fun of Pat Boone. Or Richard Pryor making fun of a young Evel Knievel, which so upset Carson that he kicked Pryor off set during the commercial break.

Now that’s television, see you in Las Vegas, Jay.

PS: You can still catch Leno every Sunday night at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California.
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15 Responses to Glazer: Sayonara, Jay Leno

  1. the dude says:

    I like his car and moto collection and Jay’s Garage but other than that the guy was a total butthole when it came to the Tonight Show. Listen to Bill Hicks take on Leno’s Doritos commercials to get an idea of what most comics thought of him when he stole the Tonight gig away from Letterman.

    • the dude says:

      The tone deaf NBC execs never even bothered to ask Carson who he wanted to succeed him. Total A-holes, NBC deserves ratings hell for the next billion years for how they bungled the Tonight show transitions.
      Really shows how petty TV is.

  2. hot harley says:

    went to a taping of carson. Next to their set was a bar that edand
    johnny would go to during breaks….and they got sloshed!
    Robert Blake was a guest that night and he came on andduring his
    set with johnny started bagging on a director whowas onthesame night.
    Johnny stopped the taping and told Robert that hewould not run the
    segment unless they redid it and blake said nothing negative about
    the director whowas also on the show. It was a riot. We got in because
    mycousin was a page for the show.
    Leno couldn’t be the forfront guy for new comedians. With cable tv
    the comedy channel ….those young comics had other options.
    They appeared on cable…got their shows on hbo and leno really
    never had a chance to “introduce” many comics during his stint.
    as far as kira…she’s hilarious…those phone booth deals are very funny…
    but leno still had some comics he introduced including the gay intern
    who was on the grammys the other night.
    Fallon is hilarious…he’ll do well…more skits than leno had…and more
    younger audience than jay had.
    Jay was good….but no one could match carson.
    NBC already screwed over jay once…they do it again….hopefully jimmy
    can fill those huge shoes from the hosts before him.

  3. tiad says:

    I remember seeing Leno a couple of times at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach on Sundays, back when he guest-hosted The Tonight Show on Mondays when Carson was off. It was a kick to see some of the same material from the club on TV the next night. Leno was very funny back then. I don’t know what happened to him.

  4. PB says:

    I’m sorry, but Leno sucks. He was tired when he stole the gig from a more deserving Letterman and a damn dinosaur as he fcked over Conan when he couldn’t just walk away a few years ago. Late night tv just got way better by subtraction. Good riddance, Jay.

  5. CG says:

    Yep Johnny was THE MAN. I think he wanted Letterman to take over, but it didn’t happen. Letterman has done just fine. All those guys are worth north of 100 million bucks but often come across unhappy and unfulfilled. Hard for us normal humans to understand, but true.

  6. Kerouac says:

    Leno was no Carson ‘host’ wise, but then Carson too was not on Parr Jack either, opine some. An subjective matter to be certain: mine, Allen was first if not best, demarcation line 1950’s tv and what followed (though Carson too was a product that same era.)

    One thing about Carson that was variously endearing, unsettling and curious at the same time was his apparent ‘nervousness’ on air (those pencils his that doubled as drumsticks took a beating upon his wooden desk, peccadillos we all have ’em.) Too, while reportedly Jekyl/Hyde on-air/off, no doubting he was the longest tenured as well most popular of them all.

    Juxtaposing today’s progeny Allen, Paar, Carson and Cavett the 2014 bunch to include the more venerable Rivers, Leno, Letterman and Hall et al to more nascent forgettable ones like Fallon, Ferguson, Kimmel, O’Brien and the rest, is now moreso a tv wasteland than a feast, my opine, a tale of too many, too similar and trying too hard; perhaps the younger generation find the current lot entertaining… I do not.

    All I can say is, even as a younger man I enjoyed those then ensconced (to include a Carson, a Cavett – even the ‘not a cut above but lessers’ a Griffin and Bishop), more than what passes today for ‘must see tv’. Difference is, I also enjoyed the trailblazers such as Allen and Parr, whereas I’ve doubts today’s generation would embrace those (who cares about some ‘old timers’) same as I once did once; to each their own. Just this: wouldn’t stay up to watch any the present day legion – ‘would’ to watch Paar or Carson or Cavett (even Mike Douglas & Merv “ooh, oooh” in lieu more of this ‘reality’ tv effluvium.)

    • CG says:

      Kerouac, nobody does this better than you. I think you are the Dennis Miller of this site, way too smart for the room.

      • PB says:

        Yeah, he’s great only like his namesake, he’s still stuck in the Beat Generation. Jeezuz, anything or anybody of note post-1970 just doesn’t seem to quite pass the muster with him. I’m guessing he may even have his computer somehow electronically tethered to an old Underwood as he pecks away his observations. Dennis Miller? He’s more like the Andy Rooney of this board, but I guess somebody needs to fill that role after his passing.

        Btw, Kerouac, just kidding around, I do enjoy reading your stuff. Differing opinions is what makes things interesting around here. As Glazer said, your observations are always intelligent and well-written. Don’t mind me, I’m just a bit grumpy today.

      • Kerouac says:

        Opinions vary CG, thanks for the kudo… as my opinions, an scribe aft my own heart nod Hendrix “kiss the sky”, much as Otis Taylor espoused being a football player aft his own, same.

        • Kerouac says:

          Reply at 3:36 p.m. @PB, confounded thing this ‘progress’ keyboard if not mine eyesight…


    • Orphan of the Road says:

      I remember Parr having home movies of The Beatles before they were on Sullivan.

      Leno never seemed to be a host in the sense of Carson/Parr/Allen/et al. Plus the change form variety to the pimp-the-corporate-line meant the guests were often tied to other branches of the corporation.

      Remember staying up with Mom & Sis to watch Grandpa’s cousin dance on The Tonight Show.

      • Kerouac says:

        Understood, no need extrapolate… I have never set out convince anyone about anything, only to share one man’s perspective. My free-flowing [some would (have) call(ed) it ‘anal’] style would not fit into mainstream print media, tho once upon a time did when a paid scribe, sated my own soapbox if not my editor’s want, a tale more concisely told. Esoteric as prolixic nature aside, appreciate yours as every’s two cent$.

  7. Lee says:

    If you are a fan of Johnny Carson, you have to read “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin. Yes, the “Bombastic Bushkin” satirized by Carson was his real life lawyer for many years. A lot of inside stuff you will not see elsewhere. A real eye opener.

  8. ♡□ says:

    It’s Groucho Marx.

    And yes, Bushkin’s book is pretty great.

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