One of the shows that I record on my DVR and watch regularly is Jay Leno's Tonight show. Call me old school, but I still find him funny. (I heard a conversation over the office lunch table the other day - "Leno is so 1990s").
I think Leno is still cool, smooth and more importantly apolitical. Not that there's anything terribly wrong in being political. But most comedians who lean on either side of the "aisle" loose control and focus and often forget the line between plain simple fun and ugly vitriol. I think Leno has maintained that balance so far. When he attacks a particular politician its funny, and he makes sure that there's no underlying seething anger behind that attack. It's not scathing.
Can't say that for some of the other comedy-show talk hosts I see. One of the famous liberal comedian who's podcast I download regularly, recently made some sexist and vulgar remarks against Sarah Palin's daughters. I mean come on; one of her daughters is just 5 years old! I understand there's hatred for Mrs Palin, but give me a break. Shouldn't you keep her daughters off limits? It was crass and tasteless to say the least.
Leno earns around 25 million dollars doing what he does. I find this whole talk-show hosting, intriguing. I am sure, since it is such a high earning profession it would be having it's share of stress as well. Although the word "stress" and comedy-show sound paradoxical, when put in same line. Think about it - 'A stressful job of making people laugh'
Here's for me what's intriguing. To come every day to studio, whether you are in a good mood or bad, and involve yourself in creativity of producing laughter. I mean EVERYDAY.
For regular professions having bad-mood days is not that bad. You can still pass by. I mean you can go on doing your routine job, may be feeling like a grump. But for Lenos of the world, you have to be in good mood every day of your working life. The bosses at NBC cannot afford to have a grump Leno even for one day. It would be a permanent taint. And they make sure they make it up to him for not being a grump by paying him millions.
One of the things that I like about Leno is the way he recovers from flat jokes. He makes sure he spells it out loud and laughs at himself for cracking a poor joke. That is a smart thing to do. You don't want to raise the stakes too high, but rather leave some space to make a come back if needed.
Johnny Carson, who preceded Leno on Tonight Show ran that show for 30 years. 30 years; about the same time a regular salaried person would work in his life time. Only thing, Carlson had to be creative and in public radar every day of those 30 years. Leno did this for around 16 years. Not bad for an era where public taste changes at a rate faster than Nasdaq.
Leno will be retiring next year. He would be leaving his current job at the top of his career. At his peak, when his show is beating other similar genre shows in viewership by several miles. I think again, you have to give him credit. Not many have the stomach to 'time' their exit right. It may be argued that NBC is kicking him off and replacing him with *this* generation's guy. But think about it, a network that is already struggling to keep it's head above water; why would it want to let go Leno?
I think the rational lies in the fact that viewers taste is changing fast and NBC needs to be ahead of the curve. Leno will surely be leaving a legacy that would be tough to top. An early retirement of Leno can be milked better by NBC then if he is allowed to continue and loose his popularity down the years. They are timing the Crest and not waiting for the Wane.