The Tonight Show With Jay Leno -- TV Review

Lindsey Vonn and Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show"


Congratulations are in order for NBC, which on Monday night celebrated an incredible achievement: Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" show hit its first anniversary. Congratulations!

But wait -- no, that wasn't Monday's big NBC late-night story after all. Instead, the spotlight once again swung in Jay Leno's direction, with his much-ballyhooed return to the spot he occupied from 1992 to just last May. You remember those strange eight months in which industry writers fumed at losing a key primetime slot, audiences vanished in droves and a tall red-headed kid from New York tried valiantly to play king of late-night?

Well, it turns out it was all just a fever dream, as Leno himself pointed out at the start of his return to "The Tonight Show," which led off with a sepia-toned "Wizard of Oz" homage. "There's no place like home," muttered Leno. Roll credits -- and poof: There he was, striding into a crowd of fervent, bowing well-wishers, with a fresh haircut and admittedly "a little nervous."

But quickly it became evident that 11:35 p.m. is home for Jay Leno. He is that unchallenging, traditional presence the nation wants before committing to either stay up way past bedtime, or call it a night. And after just touching briefly on the strange turn of events that upended his show only to place him back in his old slot, Leno plowed into "Tonight" without missing a beat. Along came the obligatory monologue, retouched video clips and a segment in which he hunted for a new desk (roping Randy Jackson and Adam Carolla in to visit the bewildered average-Joe desk sellers). Along came first guest Jamie Foxx, who got the audience to do both the wave and chant Jay's name; then Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn and musician Brad Paisley.

Turns out the legacy of Leno's brief absence from the "Tonight" time slot may just be a rethink of the show's set, since NBC is using Leno's only slightly revamped 10 p.m. digs. The desk (as noted earlier) has thankfully made a return -- though it is an oddly shaped item, with what appears to be an upended water wheel attached to one end. Leno himself? Comfortable and comforting, enthusiastic but not too much so, apparently ready to just get back to the job of making middle-of-the-road laughs.

Of course, beneath that veneer, things are not like old times; the banishment of "CoCo" has led to a generational split in "Tonight's" audience. That young demographic the show has longed to capture -- not coming anytime soon. NBC has firmly committed to Leno and the boomers for the foreseeable future (anniversary or not, Fallon is not in the running right now). That's something that may prove freeing for Leno down the road -- after all, NBC has no more cards to play; he's got the job as long as he wants it. But based on this return show, Leno isn't taking any liberties. For now, he's just settling back in his happy chair, bathing in the spotlight. All that's left now is to cross fingers (or maybe click heels three times) and hope he's brought back a few million Munchkins with him.

Airdate: 11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m., March 1, 2010 (NBC)
Production: Big Dog Prods. in association with Universal Media Studios
Host: Jay Leno
Music director: Kevin Eubanks
Executive producer: Debbie Vickers
Supervising producer: Larry Goitia
Director: Liz Plonka
Writing supervised by: Jay Leno
Monologue writing supervised by: Jack Coen
Writers: Anthony Caleca, Mike Colasuonno, Larry Jacobson, Michael Jann, John A. Kennedy, Mike Loprete, Kevin J. Lynn, Jon Macks, Andrew McElfresh, John Melendez, Steve Ridgeway, Michael Riedel, John Romeo, Dave Rygalski, Peter Sears, Jeffrey Spear, Troy Thomas, Jim Wise, Rob Young
Special material written by: Joe Medeiros
Producers: Jack Coen, Stephanie Ross
Production designer: Brandt Daniels