Defying Critics, Leno Returns 'Tonight Show' to No. 1

What explains the critic-viewers disconnect?

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When Jay Leno returned to the Tonight Show, critics collectively snarled. He was "lame," "unfunny" and "uninspired." But despite their best efforts to keep American viewers away, Leno's ratings have surged. In his first week, he dominated the 18-49 age bracket and averaged 5.58 million total viewers. After a turbulent shakeup at NBC, he's returned the franchise to number one in late night and beat out his longtime rival David Letterman. How come critics are so out of touch with American audiences?

  • Time Has Vindicated Leno, writes David Dain at Fox: "The bigger question may be why rivals and critics keep pinning the 'he can't do it' tag on someone who has done it for years. He can't replace Carson, they said 17 years ago, and then he did... A whole bunch of Americans, and they don't all live in the heartland, just seem to like the guy. He's not too snarky, not too political. He's not looking to impress us by what he gets away with. He's a traditional comic, working with broad-tent stuff, telling jokes everyone can get. What a concept."
  • He's an Easy Target, wrote Cajun Boy at Defamer: "It’d be easy and cheap to make a bunch of 'Jay Leno sucks' jokes here because the internet hates Jay Leno, mainly because he’s liked by the olds and people who live in red states, and the internet collectively tends to shit on anything liked by the olds and people who live in red states... You see, Jay Leno is sort of like a wife or a husband or a lover that you just sort of settle for. He’s a serviceable, but utterly passionless flame. He’s nice. Jay Leno is the nice guy. He’s safe."
  • Critics Have a False Sense of Edgy, writes John Nolte at Big Hollywood. He says critics have always preferred David Letterman because of his left-leaning jabs. But being a left-wing comic in a left-leaning industry is not edgy, Nolte insists.
You want to be edgy in the entertainment business today? Be polite and keep the politics as across the board as possible. Walk on stage with the 'edgy' goal of wanting to entertain and take away from their daily frustrations as many people as possible. Jay Leno’s the new edgy, the new ballsy…I’m pulling for him because all the right people are not.
  • What Does Leno Think?  Over the summer, GQ's Michael Hainey asked Leno why critics think Letterman is the "edgy guy" and not him. Leno's response was terse: "We always win 18 to 35. But we also win 35 to 60 or whatever it is. They always assume one show is hipper than the other, but it's not really true."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.