In Search Of Lost Time: Jay Leno, Where Did The Last Seventeen Years Go?


Like many people who grew up with Johnny Carson, my parents never warmed up to Jay Leno. They always thought of him as Carson’s smarmy replacement, which makes it hard to believe that he’s now been at the helm of The Tonight Show for 17 years.

That’s longer than Miley Cyrus has been alive.

For a long time, my main association with Leno was the parody of him in a Tiny Toons straight-to-video movie called How I Spent My Summer Vacation, in which a cartoon Leno appears on screen wheeling his own chin with a pushcart. Then, around the time I was 12, I started staying up late to watch Conan, and because it was before The Daily Show or The Colbert Report existed, this often necessitated sitting through The Tonight Show. Even then, Jay Leno seemed so vanilla — did anyone genuinely like this guy, or was he just someone people tolerated for a while for lack of any better options (a la Mitt Romney)?

People are still asking that question today, on the occasion of Leno’s last show. I remember when NBC announced that Conan O’Brien would take over the show in 2009, which seemed so impossibly far away four years ago, and I feel more wistful about the fact that Conan is leaving the East Coast than I do about Leno’s departure. Well, wistful, and also baffled by NBC’s decision to respond to our indifference to Leno by giving us more Leno: five nights a week! In primetime! Oh well. At least we have Conan’s first show to look forward to.

Now tell the truth: will you miss Jay Leno at all, even a smidgen?