The Jay Leno Show: A Movieline FAQ
For the last two nights, Movieline has its donned its disposable poncho and taken a front-row seat (well, front-of-couch seat) for The Jay Leno Show, NBC's bold attempt to smash the bloated watermelon of the traditional primetime programming model with the Gallagherian mallet of low-cost comedy, hoping that Leno's rapidly aging audience will tune in each night at 10 p.m. to watch their favorite middlebrow funnyman spray the wet, delicious guts of too-expensive dramas about horny doctors all over their television screens. While many pundits decided to weigh in on this brave new world in American broadcast television after a single viewing of the show, we decided it was necessary to double-down on the commitment before offering some thoughts about the dangerous experiment that soon will render primetime a scorched, Apocalyptic hellscape patrolled by highlighter-wielding cannibals in search of smoldering piles of typo-riddled, small-town newspapers to defile. Having survived the ordeal, here's a collection of helpful questions and answers about the 10 p.m. hour's most buzzed about harbinger of programming doom.
Q. Is this show for me?
If you are reading these words on the internet, you're not their target audience. The Jay Leno Show's target audience only accesses the internet through Medicare-supplied "avatars," a legion of indentured grandchildren that live on a strange world where people consume all their information and entertainment through interconnected computer screens of various sizes. Leno's viewership can summon these avatars via large-button telephones and command them to perform menial online tasks on their behalf, like sending all-caps e-mail requests to NBC demanding Leno go Jaywalkin' on every episode.
Q. Isn't this the exact same show that he was doing a few months ago, at 11:35 p.m.?
A: Yes, of course it's the exact same show. The old show was very successful! Why change anything? Oh, they did take away the desk! But they put it back if Leno needs something to hold up the pieces of cardboard upon which his precious Headlines are glued. And sometimes, just to mix things up, stand-up comedians are forced to sit down at desks to deliver their routines, as Jim Norton did last night. Hmm, so maybe things are a little different. Who knows, tomorrow night the band might be performing from the other side of the stage. Carefully controlled chaos reigns!
Q: I thought 10 p.m. was all about comedy. Why is everything so serious, with the crying hip-hop superstars and the capitalism-decrying documentarians?
A: Even though NBC's spent roughly 18 months and $375 million rebranding their 10 p.m. hour as a sanctuary where Jay Leno will feed sickly Comedy from a medicine dropper until it's strong enough to flourish in a hostile, Drama-ravaged timeslot, the premiere episode featured Jay bringing Kanye West to tears by invoking his dead mother's theoretical disappointment in her stage-crashing son, while the second show had Michael Moore plugging Capitalism: A Love Story. (Note: not a Jennifer Aniston vehicle where she falls for a caddish economist who finally opens his heart to her.) Hey, everything can't be funny all the time. The world is a harsh place, where once-mighty empires teeter on the brink of financial collapse and angelic pop-stars get their moments ruined by spotlight-craving monsters with ridiculous shit carved into the sides of their heads. Jay's just gonna take it as it comes -- laughs, tears, Michael Moore, whatever.
Q: Where are the race cars??? WE WERE PROMISED RACE CARS. Vroooom!
A: We were, weren't we? It looks like they're arriving tomorrow night. But don't get too excited about the prospects of Ford Foci zoom-zooming around in a circle until a reckless Nicole Kidman, her chemically paralyzed countenance belying the adrenaline-activated surge of blood beneath its flawless alabaster exterior, steers her vehicle into Charlize Theron's, resulting in a fiery smash-up that delays Australia 2's start date sixteen weeks. Leno's insurers have mandated that the electric cars have their top speeds reduced from 35 to 10 mph, guaranteeing that all career-hampering injuries on the show are limited to in-studio interview segments.
Q. Is it possible that Jay is a teensy weensy bit bitter about having his first-place show wrested from his grip by that uppity ginger punk Conan O'Brien?
Nah. That joke last night, in which Jay pretended that Conan's image induces crying jags in adorable babies that can only be halted by immediate exposure to Leno's denim shirt, was all in good fun. Friendly rivalry!
Q: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz together on a satellite feed, how great was that?
A: That part where Jay asked Tom to recite a line from Top Gun, that was so great! Then he said most of the line, paused to let the audience finish the line, gently prompted the audience to finish the line when maybe they didn't understand the rules of the fun game, then everyone half-heartedly finished the line together. ("I got the need. The need...you gotta finish it...for speed!") He's so back. But we can't expect that kind of piped-in-via-satellite magic every night. Expectations need to be managed.
Q: The show is a smash-hit, isn't it?
A: As expected, the show did drop about 40 percent in the ratings between its (hugely successful) first episode and its second installment, from 18 million to 11 million viewers. But that's still a two-night average of almost 15 million viewers! Sure, two nights is too small a sample to be the basis for any kind of important decision, but NBC didn't get to this special place where it could decide to blow up its schedule and change the face of broadcast television forever by making "safe," or even "good" "decisions." It's time to strike while this particular iron is white-hot, throw out another hour of scripted primetime, and take Jay to two super-sized hours per night. It's what Ben Silverman, acting on the advice of his most trusted white tiger, would do! And that tiger was never wrong.