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Leno Announces Guests for First Weeks of Jaysurrection

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Next Monday, the corpse of The Jay Leno Show will get a jolt of electricity and shamble, moaning, back to life as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. NBC and Jay have nodded to that restoration–and, perhaps, to the generational skew of Jay’s audience–with promos set to The Beatles’ “Get Back.”

And with whom will Jay get back? His first week guest list includes Sarah Palin, Jamie Foxx and a lot of Olympians.

It’s that last group—Lindsay Vonn, Shaun White and Apolo Anton Ohno—that puzzles me most, as they kick off Jay’s first three nights back. Yes, they’re household names, and yes, the Olympics ratings have been great. But Jay Leno is a man who like to repeat certain lines over and over in interviews, and one of them has to do with the importance of guests to ratings. There are only a handful of guests these days that really bring in a big rating, he said. He added—I’m paraphrasing—that it’s huge ratings if you have the winning quarterback from the Super Bowl on the night after the game. But the week after? Who cares!

Leno said that, not me, which makes this guest list a little puzzling. Maybe the idea is that, in fact, guests don’t matter, so he’ll just program his first weeks back like ordinary weeks and get whatever ratings he gets. Maybe he wants to lower expectations.

(By the way, I’ll say it again: despite all of Team Coco’s anger, I think Leno’s ratings will be just fine–or rather, whatever viewership he loses compared with a year ago will have to do with viewers having sampled Letterman and decided to stick with him, not with a “controversy” largely among people who didn’t like Jay to begin with. Leno fans—or simply average viewers who want to watch some damn TV at the end of the day—do not care about the moral rectitude of their talk-show hosts. Not that I will shed a tear if my prediction is wrong.)

If the idea is to make a big splash, though, then the new guest list makes no sense. Palin will, I assume, get a lot of attention on night 2. But Meredith Vieira of the Today show on his first Friday? No offense, but that’s like going to the prom with your sister.