• Mon, Mar 1 2010

Leno’s Back Tonight, But At What Cost?

Jay LenoThe blogosphere is buzzing about Jay Leno’s return to late night, and Crushable has some insight into controversy swirling around his (not so) triumphant return and some advice for NBC.

After the vicious back and forth that was the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno Tonight Show saga, Jay is returning to his hosting gig at 11:35 p.m. tonight. NBC is standing by its decision to bring the once-Number One late-night host back to his old spot, but after the way the network treated Conan, we’re not so sure viewers will follow. Conan fans, for one, are pissed. And Conan’s fans are young and cool, the kind of viewers who are too cool to watch late-night TV (unless its hosted by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert), which is probably the reason Conan’s ratings suffered so much up until those final weeks. But they’re also the kind of viewers advertisers love. In choosing Jay over Conan, NBC is aging itself, and the network doesn’t seem to care.

Following Conan’s own advice, we’re trying not to be cynical about the whole mess. Instead, let’s look at it practically. Jay has some image rebuilding to do, and this teaser, isn’t winning him any friends from Team CoCo. Not surprisingly, Jay has pulled out all the heavy-hitting guest spots, filling the coming week with Olympic athletes, Sarah Palin and Jersey Shore cast members, which are certainly an attempt to draw younger viewers. But will they bite?

A lot of people are avoiding the Conan angle of this story and focusing on that other late night host: David Letterman. The CBS late night host claimed the number one ratings spot after Jay decamped to 10 p.m., and he had been swiftly beating Conan ever since. So although NBC used to be able to charge more per 30-second ad spot during Jay’s show than CBS could for Letterman’s, now they’re reportedly even. Many are predicting Letterman’s chances of staying on top are slim.

In terms of making a comeback, Hollywood blog The Wrap called Jay “bruised and battered. “We’re not so sure viewers will hold a grudge against Leno,” writer Josef Adalian said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a straight line back to No. 1 for the Chin.” The Los Angeles Times pointed out that although Jay will probably win back his former audience, the future of the franchise is still unknown. When Jay does decide to actually retire and leave the show altogether, who will be the heir to his late night throne? With Conan out of the way who does that leave…Jimmy Fallon?

We say Jay should focus more on tonight and the coming weeks — working to rebuild his audience and attracting back Conan’s loyal following — and let NBC worry about the future of the show post-Leno. Keeping that in mind, The Vulture offers some ideas for jokes Jay could use to open tonight’s show.

(Photo via NBC)

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