Jay Leno knows a thing or two about late-night TV.
The veteran comic didn’t just host NBC’s “The Tonight Show” for more than 20 years. He took the baton directly from Johnny Carson, the man whose very name is synonymous with late-night excellence.
So when Leno speaks, comedians should listen. Here’s betting they won’t, at least this time around.
Leno was interviewed The New York Times about the late-night landscape in general and Jimmy Fallon in particular. Fallon replaced Leno on “The Tonight Show,” and for a while replicated Leno’s ratings success.
Then along came Trump.
Suddenly, Fallon’s mostly apolitical shtick became “problematic” for many critics. And, to be fair, Fallon watched as the mean-spirited barbs thrown at President Donald Trump by his colleagues boosted their ratings. Considerably, in the case of Stephen Colbert of “The Late Show” fame.
Yet Leno isn’t ready to slam Fallon for his stance. In fact, just the opposite. He says Fallon carries the Carson torch more than “anybody in a long time.” Carson famously played it down the middle, politically speaking. Leno says that approach is missing from today’s late-night crew.
“I am not a Trump fan at all, not in the slightest, not in the least,” he said. “But this constant pounding does have a tendency to anesthetize your feelings…
“It should be called, ‘What Did Trump Do Now?’ That’s basically what everybody’s monologue is. You almost wish for a normal day, just to have a joke.”
Pop-culture critics and hard-news reporters disagree. They say, “bring it on.” How? By reporting on every Trump crack as if it were breaking news. And, in the case of Fallon, savaging anyone who dares to “normalize” Trump by treating him like a guest … or commander in chief. Reporters still hound Fallon for treating Trump graciously when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” last year.
The left-leaning entertainment culture, along with a biased press, won’t stop supporting Colbert and co. as they hit Trump night after night. “Joke” after joke. They’re invested in damaging the Trump presidency. And yet they collectively can’t see the big picture.
Leno did. He still can. And he’s got history to back him up.
“Jack Paar would spend 90 minutes with Noël Coward, and Johnny did Art Fern. The stories would say, ‘When is “The Tonight Show” going to stop the silliness and get back to substantive issues?’”
Yet Carson thrived for decades, becoming a comedy institution in the process. And one of today’s most notorious Trump bashers suspects he’ll pay the price for his current shtick.
The “Late Night with Seth Meyers” host shared his views on the current comedy scene with The New York Times. What he said might surprise you.
Mr. Meyers acknowledged that the increasingly political bent of his “Late Night” program had probably alienated some viewers, and said that Mr. Fallon’s efforts to create a more varied and inclusive program were not only still viable but more likely to prevail in the long run.
Sometimes “show business” types care less about the bottom line and more about scoring partisan points. Leno lasted by doing the opposite.