WHAT MAKES “THE TONIGHT SHOW” A THING?
Freud – with apologies to you Jungian enthusiasts – famously said that sometimes even a cigar is just a cigar.
Not sure that has anything to do with “The Tonight Show”, but I think maybe it does.
I used to love “The Tonight Show”. At least, I did back when it was “The Tonight Show”, which to me means when Johnny Carson hosted it. I was a kid then, and a college student when he retired. But I loved the show anyway. When I was little, my favorite thing was when I got to stay up late to see either “The Tonight Show” or “Twilight Zone” reruns. I didn’t fully understand either one, but I was captivated by then.
When Jay Leno took over “The Tonight Show” in the nineties, I was disappointed. He was okay, but he wasn’t Johnny. He wasn’t David Letterman either. By the time I was in college, Dave spoke to me more than Jay did and it bugged me Dave didn’t get the show. “The Tonight Show” was dead to me by then. What we were left with was “The Jay Leno Show”. But life goes on.
Flash forward twenty years. NBC decides to dump Jay and promote Conan O’Brien to the “Tonight Show” slot in an effort to keep him from bolting from the network and fighting to hold on to the coveted 18-34 demographic. Jay whines and gets a prime time show consolation prize. That show tanks and drags Conan’s fledgling new “Tonight Show” with it. It’s not long before Jay whines loudly enough that Conan is banished to basic cable and Jay is back in the “Tonight Show” host’s chair, doing the same lame jokes and lamer comedy bits.
It you couldn’t tell, I’m totally TeamCoco.
But it’s not over. Oh, no. Not by a long-shot.
Barely two years later, Jay v. Dave begat Jay v. Conan (See a pattern here for supposedly one of the nicest guys in showbiz?) which has begat (that’s a thing, right?) Jay v. Jimmy.
NBC has made it clear that come 2014, Jay is out as host of “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon is in. AND, not only that, but the show will move from Los Angeles to New York, where Jimmy is now, and where “The Tonight Show” originated, until Johnny insisted on going to California in the sixties.
So, “The Tonight Show” obviously won’t be “The Jay Leno Show” anymore, but, by getting back to its roots will it be “The Tonight Show” again? Jimmy is a nice guy and can be kind of funny, but also often irritating. He shares a Midwestern deferential, nice guy quality with Johnny, but lacks Carson’s gravitas. They sold his ties and suits at Sears, back when Sears was cool, for god’s sake. I don’t predict Jimmy-wear in stores any time soon. Johnny was a classy guy. Jimmy is a goofball.
He’d never say it in public because in his own wise-guy way, Conan is pretty deferential too, but I have to think some part of Conan is laughing his ass off at all this. In fairness, it wasn’t Jay’s idea to give Conan his job and it wasn’t his idea to give Jimmy his job, but he’s been less than gracious in accepting either fate. Johnny never made a public-peep about his replacement when he left. Jay on the other hand, uses part of his show every night to take shots at his bosses.
Maybe Jimmy can bring a little of Johnny’s class back. But will it be “The Tonight Show”?
No, probably not. Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again whether or not you smoke Freud’s cigar while watching The Twilight Zone in New York.”
Seriously. It’s on Wikipedia. Look it up.
I still miss you Johnny.