Saturday, February 8, 2014

The End of an Era

Twenty-two years ago, America's late-night audience bid farewell to a titan of the genre, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson:

On Thursday, his most able replacement of the last 22 years, Tonight Show host Jay Leno bid us all an emotional farewell:

Like many of you, I had great doubts about Leno's ability to fill the shoes of the Great One.  I was a casual fan and while I thought he was a huge talent, I questioned how good a fit he would be for the format of a show like the Tonight Show.  I saw Leno as simply a stand-up talent.  Boy, did I get that one wrong.  Over the last two decades he's been on the air, Jay Leno more than proved himself equal to the task of assuming the mantle of "The King of Late Night".

While he would surely demur, Leno is the best there is at what he does and his incarnation of the Tonight Show has held the top spot in the Nielson ratings for years, with his finale drawing a huge audience of more than 14.6 million!

Leno wasn't better than Carson.  His was a slightly different brand of humor.  He held up a mirror to us and made us laugh at what he saw (man on the street), he pointed out the humor in everyday mistakes (headlines) and brought us insights into the lives and (sometimes mis-) fortunes of celebrities.  Carson was more skit-based; his humor was as observational as Leno's, delivered in a different way and they each had great interaction with their "co-hosts".

Jay Leno will be missed every bit as much as Johnny Carson was.  Jay Leno won America's late-night audience over by being true.  He didn't pander to the popular whims of the day, he didn't play to the current political winds.  He had his personal opinions, but he never let them interfere with an interview or color his treatment of any of his guests.  He was, and remains, a true class act.

I don't know if Jimmy Fallon will succeed as the new host, whether the Tonight Show will continue to dominate it's time slot, or if this signals a true ending of one of the last remnants of the Golden Age of television.

Time will tell.

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