I’ve said before and will say it again: whatever my opinion of Jay Leno as a talk show host, and whatever my opinion of NBC’s canning Conan O’Brien or Leno’s role in it, the idea that he is in danger of a big ratings backlash over it is a stretch. (His ratings could be lower when he returns for other reasons, like viewers’ having drifted to Letterman or simply having gotten used to an earlier bedtime, but that’s another story.) Reason: most people don’t give a crap. They watch their show, they go to bed and they don’t think much about whether the stand-up is a stand-up guy.
That’s what I think. But maybe it’s not what NBC and Jay Leno think. Because on Thursday Jay will be doing his first big post-Jaypocalypse interview… with Oprah Winfrey.
Winfrey is said to have an interview offer out to Conan as well, but the Leno appearance is being widely interpreted as part of an effort to do damage control and reclaim Jay’s image after the acrimony of the last few weeks.
If so, I have to wonder if it’s a mistake. I think Leno’s fans like him, they don’t blame him (to the extent they care at all) and they’ll stick by him as David Letterman’s fans did after his affair scandal. I don’t think it’s an issue, but I do have to wonder if going the p.r.-rehabilitation route of an Oprah appearance doesn’t make it an issue—causing more average people, who could have given a crap about the imbroglio before now, to wonder about Jay’s role in the whole affair when previously they wouldn’t have thought about it.
Then again, that could be the point: that is, doing the appearance, and hanging a light on Jay’s p.r. issues, could make him seem beleaguered and the subject of unfair piling-on, thus inviting a pro-Jay, leave-the-guy-alone backlash.
One way or another, I’m assuming we’ll have to wait a while before he books on Kimmel.