News Column

Axing Jay a liberal NBC laugh gaffe

May 18, 2013


By Andrea Peyser

Bring back Jay Leno!

He hasn't left the building yet? Maybe there's still hope.

This boneheaded move stands to go down along with history's greatest mistakes:

The ascent of Anthony Weiner. Tiger Woods, too. The public disembowelment of former NBC "Today" show host Ann Curry.

Now we can add to this list the painful decision that, come February, the miserable Peacock Network, which brought you the (mercifully) canceled "Smash," is showing the door to the host of "The Tonight Show," a gent who's grown, like a comfortable shoe, into America's Sweetheart.

NBC reportedly was so determined to rid itself of Leno, it agreed to pay him $15 million to get lost.

What a loss.

At age 63, Leno isn't your standard, liberal cup of java. He's witty and sprightly compared to CBS's crankypants lefty David Letterman, 66, whose continued existence on the TV dial is a mystery for the ages.

And, amid the vast landscape of TV talkers, including, but not limited to, HBO's odious Bill Maher, Leno harbors a filthy, little secret.

He's the lone conservative to swim in the shark tank of Republican-bashing, President Obama-worshiping TV hosts. The kinds of misogynists who demonize Sarah Palin.

Leno has been merciless of late when riffing on government scandals. Such as the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups.

"I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke," he said this week, "but I don't want to get audited by the IRS, so forget that . . ."

The alleged administration coverup of last year's deadly terror attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya?

"The White House has a new slogan about Benghazi: Hope and change the subject," Leno said last week. "Remember the old days when President Obama's biggest embarrassment was Joe Biden? What happened to those days?"

This may explain why NBC, a network that screams to the left (remember when it censored the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance during the 2011 US Open golf tourney?), can't wait to see him go.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the trash heap of retired talk-show hosts: Leno has caught fire.

The ratings leader in his time slot, Leno positively crushed Letterman and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel in the just-released early May sweeps ratings.

And while Leno's replacement on "Tonight," Jimmy Fallon, 38, won his 12:35 a.m. time slot with "Late Night," his numbers aren't nearly as impressive as Jay's. (The untested Seth Meyers is to replace Fallon.)


The audience already misses Jay, who's become a kind of friend. But NBC suits refuse to see that people resent the way he was mutilated, like Curry, by the clueless network that bumbled Olympics coverage. (Tape-delaying Missy Franklin's backstroke gold medal? Please.)

Jay treated his ouster with humor and grace, singing a duet with replacement host Fallon.

"I had to call David Letterman and tell him he didn't get 'The Tonight Show' again. Awful! Terrible!" he quipped last month.

"He's like the dying patient trying to comfort all the people around him," said a TV source. "The way [NBC] treated him was just stupid."

Hollywood publicist Michael Levine predicted that NBC's attempt to lure young viewers with Fallon will fall flat.

"Many people whom I speak with under 30 have little relationship with TV. Most don't even own one," Levine said.

He's not surprised that Leno was treated like dog meat. "Networks are increasingly not known for their 'class.' Jay is a great talent and will be fine in the long run."

NBC made a costly late-night mistake once before, replacing Leno with Conan O'Brien in June 2009, only to change its collective mind seven months later and bring Jay back.

The network will regret booting Jay again. I may have to skip NBC from now on.

Originally published by Andrea Peyser.

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