The Jay Leno Show

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The Jay Leno Show
Premiere September 14, 2009
Finale February 9, 2010
Creator Jay Leno
Host Jay Leno
Network NBC
Style 60-minute talk show
Company Big Dog Productions,
Universal Media Studios
Seasons 1
Episodes 95
(List of episodes)
Origin USA

The Jay Leno Show is a primetime talk show that aired on NBC. The series was a temporary spiritual successor to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after abdicating his position as host in 2009. The series was cancelled in January 2010 when it was announced that Leno would return to hosting The Tonight Show.


Production History

On September 27, 2004, it was announced that Conan O'Brien (then host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien) would take the reins of The Tonight Show in 2009. Shortly after the announcement by NBC, reports began to surface that Jay Leno, who had hosted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for 16 years, planned to retire in 2009. Leno had hoped to avoid the kind of conflict that characterized the passing of the torch from Johnny Carson to him in 1992 by stepping down, stating in his last episode of Tonight, "You can do these things until they carry you out on a stretcher, or you can get out when you’re still doing good."

However, in 2007, Leno changed his mind about retirement. Several networks and studios, including ABC, FOX, Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Broadcasting, expressed an interest in developing a new show for Leno, who had performed well in late night ratings. Fearing that Leno would defect to another network and directly compete with O'Brien, NBC President Jeff Zucker also threw his hat into the ring. Leno rejected several of NBC's offers, including daytime and cable talk shows and hosting an American version of Top Gear. Zucker had previously offered 5 nights a week at 8 p.m. to Oprah Winfrey in 2007, which she declined. Leno agreed a series airing 5 nights a week at 10 p.m. (in primetime), the first of its kind since the DuMont network aired Captain Video and His Video Rangers in 1949, called The Jay Leno Show on December 9, 2008.

The series was met with resistance from some affiliates, particularly WHDH in Boston, Massachusetts. WHDH stated that it would not carry the program, citing that the series would be a poor lead-in to the 11 p.m. news broadcast compared to the higher rated dramas. NBC had public stated that the "break even" minimum rating for Leno was a Neilsen rating of 1.5 in the 18-49 demographic, a figure far lower than most primetime dramas. NBC claimed that the station would be in violation of its contract and that the network would respond by removing its programming if they didn't air Leno. WHDH agreed to air the series instead of a proposed local news program on April 13, 2009.

The series premiered to mixed reviews and high ratings on September 14, 2009, partially due to an appearance by Kanye West the day after infamously interrupting Taylor Swift during the MTV Video Music Awards. His ratings dropped by 40% the second night and continued to slide below the "break even" mark. Affiliates reportedly claimed Leno was causing a poor rating domino effect, causing slumping ratings for local news, The Tonight Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. In some instances, Leno was being beaten in the ratings by cable programs and DVR use was found on a steep increase in the hour compared to Fall 2008.

In January 2010, rumors began to swell that The Jay Leno Show would be shortened to 30 minutes and moved to 10:35 p.m., after local news in most areas, with The Tonight Show and Late Night following it beginning at 12:05 a.m. NBC planned to institute the line-up change after the 2010 Winter Olympics, which preempt much of the network's primetime and late-night programming. According to Broadcasting & Cable, "most [NBC affiliates] are hopeful Jay—and Conan—sticks with NBC, and most, if not all, desperately want to see a change in terms of the lead-in they're getting to their lucrative late news; the affiliates "remain fiercely loyal to Leno and were quick to say the rookie program's struggles don't reflect the funnyman's work ethic or comedic chops. 'This isn't about Jay's popularity,' says WJAR Providence VP/General Manager Lisa Churchville. 'This is about having that kind of show at 10 p.m.'"

In an open letter, O'Brien publicly refused the 12:05 a.m. slot, noting that it would air "the next day," and argued that the move would damage both The Tonight Show and Late Night. Unable to reach an agreement that would keep O'Brien at the network, NBC instead released O'Brien from his contract and reinstated Leno as the host of The Tonight Show, rendering The Jay Leno Show inert.


Each episode of The Jay Leno Show follows roughly the same format. Beginning with Leno shaking hands with audience members in the front row, he later launches into an 8 to 12 minute monologue referencing current events and other weird news of the day. Instead of following the monologue with comedy segments like he would on Tonight, Leno instead introduces the first of (at most) two celebrity guests. The guest will also often participate in bits like Earn Your Plug (a concept borrowed from Howard Stern) or the "advertiser-friendly" Green Car Challenge (a segment similar to Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car).

Musical guests, traditionally the least watched part of late-night talk shows, appear twice per week in the middle of the episode. Depending on the guests, the second celebrity interview occurs either before or after the musical guest. Occasionally, the guest is interviewed via satellite in a segment called Ten at Ten.

The final 15 minutes of the episode are dedicated to comedy segments, in hopes of retaining the largest amount of viewers for local news. Initially, Tonight Show holdovers like Headlines and Jaywalking would appear at this time. It was also when "correspondent" comedians like D. L. Hughley, Dan Finnerty and Jim Norton would be given time to perform or broadcast their segments. Though touted as one of the biggest differences between Tonight and Leno, scheduling the comedy segments at the end of the episode was later shifted to after the monologue for popular segments like Headlines.

At the end of the episode, the network does not air any additional commercials and advises affiliates to begin their local news broadcasts immediately to keep as many lead-in viewers as possible.


Critical response to the series has ranged from average to negative. Most television critics described Leno's comedy bits as "lame" while others took issue with the quality of the correspondent segment. NPR's Linda Holmes commented, "It was a particularly inauspicious start for the feature Leno has probably hyped the most: performances from young comedy performers. If this is the best thing they had in the can after a summer to prepare, that's a little concerning." Though some critics have supported Leno, they have qualified that support. A review by Rick Ellis of of a January episode admitted that although he has been one of Leno's "biggest supporters," the show sometimes plays it too safe and "can be a long, boring hour of television." The episode in particular was considered to be a display of Leno's worst: "over prepared, safe and predictable."

The sole positive ratings on Metacritic, which scored Leno at 48 out of 100, come from the New York Post and the Chicago Tribune. The Post's Linda Stasi described Leno's style as "that smart and smartass mix of talent and controversy that separates the pros from the bores." However, Stasi's review mainly revolved around Leno's public rebuke of Kanye West, who was entertainment's most hated personality at the time. The Tribune's Paige Weiser made similar praise, particularly approving of Dan Finnerty's The Dan Band.

Within the television industry, rival networks ABC and CBS have reportedly discouraged the stars of their biggest series from appearing on Leno due to the fact that it is a competing primtime series. The first CBS star to appear on the show was Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a friend of Leno's who made a personal commitment to the host. Other networks like FOX and HBO have encouraged their stars to appear on the show, though FOX does not compete with NBC during the 10 p.m. hour.


Season Premiere Finale #
Season One September 14, 2009 February 9, 2010 95


DVD Releases

There has not been a DVD release for this show.

External Sites