By Neal Justin
Same host, different time. Anyone expecting that Jay Leno would emerge on his opening night in a tutu and working blue, must have been deeply disappointed. Based on just one night, Leno – for better or worse – is still swinging for singles right down the middle. That’s probably smart, considering that his new prime-time gig must play to older, more socially conservative audiences, even more than before.
Still, Leno can’t rely solely on his easygoing charm and rat-a-tat jokes. At his best, last night, he didn’t. The absolute highlights: A sitdown with Kanye West and a surprise video appearance from Oprah Winfrey.
Jay did a great job with Kanye, still in hot water because of the way he interrupted Taylor Swift at last night’s VMA Awards. Jay smartly asked him what his mother would have said about his behavior. Great question, and while Kanye didn’t really answer,he did tear up – the kind of emotional, real, live moment this show can really jump on. Oprah’s appearance also scored, in large part because she only addressed guest Jerry Seinfeld, ignoring Jay, and also because, well, she’s Oprah.
But let’s face facts. It won’t be every night that a booked guest will be in the news. It won’t be every night you can get a cameo from the Queen of All Media. On the nights that happen, “Leno” will score. On slow nights, he’ll have to rely on typical banter, monologues and taped bits. In the last category, the show was a big disappointment, kicking off with comedian Dan Finnerty singing silly songs to a car-wash customer. I was also surprised that Leno’s monologue was short, by his standards, only six minutes.
Yes, Headlines was still a reliable chuckler and the “fake” interview with President Obama was amusing, but those are bits I can see on late-night TV anytime I want. Fair or not, people will expect more in prime-time. Leno, for the most part, hit those expectations - for one night. Only 2,300 to go…