The Jay Leno Show ended last night with an absolute minimum of fanfare—fittingly and deliberately, since NBC’s hope is to pretend that it, and Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, never happened. Come March 1, the idea is, we’ll all stretch and yawn, memories of Olympic figure skating ice-dancing in our heads, and watch Leno on the Tonight Show. Just like we always did. With no interruption.
So Jay’s last primetime show was a strange, rushed, jarringly ordinary thing, with a handful of references to its ending, practically none to Jay’s returning to the Tonight Show, and the general feeling of the host trying to speed past an embarrassing incident. It was as if he had just belched during a toast at a formal dinner, and was trying ignore it, finish his remarks and sit down as quickly as possible.
And in a way I can sympathize. I’ve never been a fan of Jay’s Tonight or this show and have made no secret of that, but the fact is: here Jay is, hosting a show he never wanted to take in the first place (at least, not in preference to his old job), and living through its rushed cancellation to stave off an affiliate revolt.
I sympathize, but as has been the case all through the Jaypocalypse/Conanundrum at NBC, Jay managed to be just disingenuous enough to be annoying. “It seems like just five months ago I was telling NBC, ‘This isn’t going to work,'” which is hi-lar-ious, because that’s exactly what Leno wasn’t saying five months ago. (Jay may be an employee, but he’s not a slave; there is nothing on God’s Earth that could have forced him to do The Jay Leno Show if he really didn’t want to.)
And he had on Donald Trump to tell him—all together now—”You’re fired!,” because, poor Jay, just like millions of suffering Americans, he has been unceremoniously fired from his job and promoted to a more-prestigious and higher-paying one as a reward for his failure.
That said, Jay has sense enough to know that it would be silly to say a goodbye to a show that he will basically pick up and move to 11:35 three weeks from now, even if he wouldn’t talk about that on-air. Instead, he reprised some routines (how will we survive without the beer-pong video of the week?), and hosted a set of celebrity guests, ending with Bob Costas doing the “10 at 10” interview. Asked by Leno how he felt to be doing the final 10 at 10, Costas answered, “It’s like being involved in the last broadcast of a Clippers season.”
With one exception. The Clippers don’t get to come back next season and be the Lakers.