See you later, Jay â€” earlier in the day
Time was, a major change in the late-night television landscape was a big deal. Now, with households having more ways than ever to fill a drowsy hour flopped in front of a screen â€” DVDs, TiVo, video games, Letterman, the Internet, etc. all vie for our (in)attention â€” Jay Lenoâ€™s signing off tonight after 17 years on â€œThe Tonight Showâ€ is something of a yawner.
However the Massachusetts native crafts his exit tonight, it will be a far cry from the sincere sense of loss the country felt when his predecessor, Johnny Carson, signed off in 1992. After 30 years soothing a simpler America to sleep, a tearful Carson was serenaded on his next-to-last show by Bette Midler as part of a classy, genuine good-bye that seems also to have gently closed the door on an era.
Leno will be funny tonight, perhaps sentimental, certainly goofy, affable and cautiously edgy â€” the way he always is. But itâ€™s unlikely his signoff will offer much meat for the long-term memory â€” his show just doesnâ€™t do that. His replacement, the smart comic Conan Oâ€™Brien, also from the Boston area, could rejuvenate â€œTonight,â€ but the showâ€™s secure grip on popular culture enjoyed by Carson, Jack Paar and Steve Allen has likely slipped away forever.
Leno or no, no oneâ€™s got a lock on late night anymore. In the fall, heâ€™ll try his luck with punch lines in prime time with the â€œThe Jay Leno Showâ€ at 10 p.m. Thatâ€™s an interesting idea, but those who are barely paying attention to NBCâ€™s maneuverings â€” and thatâ€™s a lot of people â€” will likely say, â€œThatâ€™s funnyâ€ when the new show starts.
As in â€¦ â€œThatâ€™s funny, I thought he left.â€