Almost half-way through the first episode of The Jay Leno Show, Jerry Seinfeld sat down and cracked a joke about how in the 1990s, when Seinfeld went off the air, people actually retired. But now, in the Brett Favre ’00s, people retire, take a three-day weekend and come back.
It didn’t feel quite like a compliment.
After all, though Favre had a good first game as a Minnesota Viking yesterday, he hasn’t exactly come out of retirement and won Super Bowls.
And really, the initial episode of The Jay Leno Show felt more like the product of a three-day weekend than a three-month break. At half time of Sunday Night Football, Leno joked that NBC was throwing a big Hail Mary pass with his new prime time comedy/variety/talk show that will run at 10 p.m. five-nights a week.
Even if it fails to achieve, Law & Order- or ER-like ratings, the Leno show reportedly could be a success because a whole week of the show costs less than an hour of a scripted drama.
But the debut episode felt like a pass that went through the receiver’s hands and fell to the ground. And despite all the chatter about this being different from The Tonight Show, Leno’s gig until May, the only things that seemed to differentiate The Jay Leno Show were changing the order of some Tonight Show staples and taking away Leno’s desk.
The show opened with a title sequence that looked like something out of the first few years of Saturday Night Live. Then Leno emerged on a set that looked smaller than his old Tonight Show digs — or Conan O’Brien’s new Tonight Show digs, for that matter — though it is reportedly a bigger studio.
Leno came out and delivered a mildly amusing, topical monologue which led into two taped bits. In the big spotlight piece, Hangover actor Dan Finnerty sang to a car wash customer who seemed as uncomfortable experiencing this as it was to watch it.
Seinfeld finally sparked the show to life, including a short Oprah Winfrey interview in which he asked all the questions before a faux flummoxed Leno.
The most compelling moment of the show wasn’t humor, but actually Kanye West coming out to discuss his classless hijacking of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech on Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards. Leno clearly hit a nerve with West by asking what his late mother would have thought of his behavior. Then West joined Jay-Z and Rhianna for a solid performance of Run This Town.
But Leno’s first show was far from solid — a routine Tonight Show at best. Of course, Leno’s Tonight Show is proof you can’t count the man with the anvil chin out early. He struggled early, only to dominate his time slot for most of his 17-year late night run.
But there, he was facing news and other talk shows. At 10, he’ll contend with scripted dramas and other standard network fare. And it’s first night out, The Jay Leno Show was a not ready for prime time player.
Note: 35-minutes later, on The Tonight Show, O’Brien welcomed viewers to NBC’s “night of a thousand monologues,” and proceeded to deliver a much funnier one than Leno’s, covering many of the same topics.
Some other views:
- Newark Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall.
- Atlanta Constitution’s Rodney Ho.
- Ed Bark of Uncle Barky’s Bytes.
- Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times.
- Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik. (Interesting here that several commenters seem to be people who never stayed awake for the musical guests on The Tonight Show.)