TiVo loves me. That’s why it tapes any show where Ewan MacGregor makes an appearance, because it knows I’ll make an embarrassing noise when I see his name listed in the show description and because TiVo wants to make me happy. Always tape it. Even if the show is terrible, I tell my little gray machine. Even if it’s… The Jay Leno Show.
So, the other day TiVo taped The Jay Leno Show. Because it was just doing as it was told. And I still wanted to yell at it.
Look, I don’t really have anything against Jay Leno. He seems like a genuinely sweet guy. I’ve seen him twice in person (once during an NBC Studio Tour in LA and the page, our own Kenneth, who had sworn up and down that we wouldn’t get to see him, actually started choking with surprise. The other was at Bud Ekins’ Memorial Service at the Warner Bros Lot.) He was kind and gracious and sweet both times. And TALL. Very tall.
But, as a huge fan of scripted television, the decision to stick a 10pm Jay Leno talk show in the usual NBC primetime slot reserved for show such as the cut-down-too-soon Southland and my precious Law & Order: SVU, filled me with dread. I wasn’t a fan of his Tonight Show to begin with but now NBC would be using it to edge out more creative (and more costly) programming, which had already seen huge cuts in recent years because of the surge of popularity for game shows and reality television. And what’s worse, the show is just not good and the ratings are worse. It’s like benching my kid and tossing a dying cat into the game instead. There are noises and awkwardness and I think we all just want to go home now.
Yesterday, I was all revved up to write this big, puffy “How to Fix Jay Leno”, only to find that AOL’s InsideTV beat me to it. And while their suggestions will definitely help (I particularly like “Tell Kevin Eubanks to Shut Up”), I’ve got a few more:
Copy A Different BBC Show: That racetrack, which Jay clearly pinched from his (and my) favorite car show Top Gear, looks ridiculous. It’s like when your little brother tries to dress like you but ends up in neon and puffy paint. Did Disney build that track? Ewan MacGregor, who has driven the track on Top Gear and survived Jeremy Clarkson lambasting him for his preference for motorcycles, looked embarassed.
So, look. I’m not saying, “Don’t be a copycat” but let’s try another one of my favorite BBC gems instead. The Graham Norton Show. Now, I know you’re not gay, Jay, and you probably don’t want to offer your guests copious amounts of wine but Graham Norton’s set-up is the best talk show set-up I have ever seen. Throwing three guests (as wonderfully varied as The Osbournes, Ricky Gervais and Olivia Newton-John) all together on the couch and talking and letting them interact with each other, not just you, would be a HUGE breath of fresh air for the American talk show. I might even watch it.
A set-up like that allows the guests to back off of their “I’m just here to promote this” wagon. How else would we have learned that Orlando Bloom is hot, yes, but as dull as a box of nails? Or that Reese Witherspoon doesn’t know that there is, in fact, a North and South Jersey?
Take to the Road: Back when this decision to keep Jay on NBC was made, there was a slew of arguments about why this was a good idea and all of them eventually came down to “Real America loves Jay Leno.” He’s kinder, gentler and way less esoteric than Letterman and Conan. He goes down like Mary Poppins’ “Rum Punch” tonic. The Midwest LOVES him. Old people find those denim shirts charming.
So, why is he still in LA? Sure, that’s where the guests are but guest segments can be filmed separately. Sure, it’s cheaper and more convenient for Jay to stick around his Beverly Hills compound. But if we’re looking to really save the show? Send Jay to Corn Festivals, to the town with that big old ball of yarn. Have him tape shows in KFW’s. Do a show in a car dealership in Akron, he loves his cars anyway. You want the pull of Real America back? Put them on TV. Conan does it occassionally and, while the remote segments are almost always funny, CoCo’s relegated to the LA area (and NY when he was the host of Late Night.) Jay Leno already has the transportation. He’s got people and he’s got the need, most importantly, so send him to the people who got him here.
Hire Wanda Sykes Instead: Yeeeah, this one might be the toughest to take but just hear me out. I’m all for it to continue as The Jay Leno Show but maybe we can turn this more into an “Ed Sullivan” kind of situation.
Guest hosts, with Jay overseeing all as Lord & Master. Comedians who do their stand-up act INSTEAD of the dreadful monologue that’s notorious for sending people away, if it’s less than stellar. A Daily Show-like “fake news” reporter to deliver zingers on the world’s headlines for the day. Fill up that stage with guys and girls who are funnier than Jay and let them shine.