Let's talk about an entertainment situation for a moment without naming names.
Pretend there was a talk-show host who had been on the same job for about 22 years. Imagine he did nothing but win the ratings battle, week after week. That meant his employer made untold millions of dollars on his work.
When that person moved on, what would be the proper response? I'd probably start with a ticker-tape parade, followed by one of those zillion-dollar presents in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog.
You've probably figured out that this isn't so hypothetical. It's about Jay Leno, whose last night on "The Tonight Show" will be broadcast tonight.
As departures go, this is a really odd one. The obvious comparison is with Johnny Carson, who left the same job after more than 30 years. Carson's departure was a national event, with an absolutely endless parade of celebrities stopping by to be on his show one last time.
But a lot has changed in Leno's 22 years on the job. Television certainly has. The Big Three networks no longer are the only dominant players on the scene, winning a plurality instead of a majority of the viewers. The Tonight Show's viewers have dropped greatly in that span. Then again, everyone's numbers have gone downhill.
Still, that's not the only factor at work here. Leno was always the safe choice when it came to late night comedy. He didn't come up with many memorable jokes, but he was there for a few laughs night after night. And safe won the (ratings) race, consistently - even if it didn't create a great deal of buzz along the way.
Then there's the fact that Leno was in the middle of the affair in which NBC tried to move him to 10 p.m. weeknights and replace him with Conan O'Brien. Leno had a reputation for being rather insecure before all this; I can't imagine that episode did a great deal for his confidence.
I rarely watched Leno. David Letterman was and is more of my taste. And I can't say I feel sorry for Leno. He's made plenty of money over the years, and did what he loved on a nightly basis. Leno will return to doing stand-up at clubs and casinos, as well as do a little television when something interests him. Considering he reportedly banked his Tonight Show earnings and lived off the other gigs, Leno can work when he wants. And I'll be watch tonight's show, as something of an era ends. After all, I still have a video tape of Carson's last week.
Does the proverbial shout-out from this space go 1/1,000,000th of the way to compensating for the lack of buzz and thanks concerning his departure? Probably not. But you punch in at the job night after night and perform, you deserve a salute. So that's what this is.
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