The Jay Leno Show: Jennifer Garner, Rep. Barney Frank
by Danny Gallagher, posted Sep 22nd 2009 1:06AM
The Jay Leno Show has only been on for a week, but it's already starting to fall into a familiar pattern, and that's a good thing for late night. Familiarity creates a steady audience by making it more comforting, and helps weed out what doesn't work and focus on what does.
Unfortunately, the thing that makes the late night format work is breaking Jay's show.
Just about the only thing that works with Jay's show is his monologue. The rest make him feel more out of his element than Donnie from The Big Lebowski.
The familiarity in this case lies in the show's attempt to reinvent the late night wheel. It tries to be more free and less concrete by not locking into a specific order. The show could go from the monologue to the interviews or to the comedy without pattern or warning. Unfortunately, if the comedy sucks or the interview becomes boring and it's towards the front, it makes you wary about watching the rest or tuning in again.
The monologue always works because Leno is more professional than most professionals. He knows how to write, tell, deliver and sell a joke better than any human on the planet. So it has to go up front. You can't move it around or you lose whatever mojo it can build for the rest of the hour. It's always the perfect opening act for this circus. The rest of the acts, well, let's just say if one of them involved lion taming, that someone would have been eaten by now.
The problem isn't in the main interviews. Leno doesn't have a filter when it comes to asking controversial questions about celebrity scandals from his comedy training, and the purely celebrity interviews are just a chance to let the star shine and do their thing, whatever that may be. In Jennifer Garner's case, that's looking pretty, plugging her movie, and cracking a smart line or two. Leno's weakness is interviewing, but he's learned to compensate by letting them talk.
As for tonight's "Ten@Ten," the segment designed to compensate for Leno's ability to ask probing questions, it shows his weakness by making him wear his Kevlar on the outside. The show attempts to counter the Late Show scoring President Barack Obama by interviewing Barney Frank, and actually has a more unique opportunity than David Letterman to get some honest answers from a guy who shoots from the hip more than Barney Fife. But since "Ten@Ten" is designed to do everything but ask real questions, it turns into a snap-fest of Frank taking down his favorite political targets like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh that enlighten no one and entertain even less.
Then after a dismal round of "Headlines," Leno mentions that Limbaugh just happens to be a guest in one of this week's episodes. Interviews never work when you write ahead of them. They are best when they are spontaneous and spur of the moment, and this was clearly just designed to rile the right's fatman up by the left's Jake.
You can't reinvent the wheel by making it square.
Watch episodes and clips of The Jay Leno Show and other shows at SlashControl.