Tuned In

Jay Leno, Martyr

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In all the NBC late-night drama, I’ve made a point of not treating Jay Leno as the bad guy. I was not a fan of The Jay Leno Show nor of his Tonight Show, but a lot of other people were, and he did a good job making a show that they loved. He didn’t ask to get bumped off the Tonight Show, nor can I blame him for wanting it back.

That said, Jay’s monologue jokes about the situation since it exploded last week have been, if not tactless, at the very least weird:

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In Jay’s defense, he seemed uncomfortable giving his monologue last night, as if, understandably, he’d rather be talking about anything else. And he probably knows that, over at CBS, Dave Letterman has been savaging him more viciously than ever over the whole fiasco. But that doesn’t explain Jay and his writers taking a comic approach that casts him as the victim.

For starters, there’s been his line from the beginning that NBC was “cancelling” The Jay Leno Show. Um, no, Jay.  NBC’s plan of record is to move The Jay Leno Show from 10 p.m. to 11:35 p.m. Rescheduling is not cancellation, especially when it involves returning you to the time slot you wanted to keep in the first place.

I get that you’re going for self-deprecating humor, Jay. But I hope you realize that most of your audience would love to get “fired” in a way that involved a promotion and an offer to do half the work for the same money.

Then there was his bizarre joke last night that “Harry Reid is apologizing more than the NBC affiliates.” Huh? Maybe we should give Jay the benefit of the doubt and assume that was a flubbed joke: maybe he meant to say “than NBC is apologizing to its affiliates.” Because surely Jay didn’t mean that the affiliates were apologizing for their local news ratings being devastated by The Jay Leno Show, and for asking NBC to fix it. Surely he didn’t mean that the affiliates should be apologizing to him.

Did he?

Jay Leno gets a lot of undeserved guff from TV critics. He does so because much of his success has come at the expense of performers we like better: David Letterman, and now, it seems, Conan O’Brien. That’s not fair. Nor is it Jay’s fault that he somehow manages to walk off unscathed—and rewarded—while a programming strategy that he was central to is bringing down his network in flaming chunks all around him.

But when everyone, including Jay’s own audience, knows that he is coming out on top in the whole fiasco—and that it’s looking like he will again be given the Tonight Show amid a colleague’s public backstabbing by his network—Jay should at least stop acting like he’s the one with the dagger between his shoulder blades.

You’re winning, Jay. Have the good humor to admit it.