Leno Leaves A Legacy Of Hard Work And Being #1

Jay Leno & Chin

Jay Leno & Chin

OK, so it’s not an expose on Barack Obama’s plan to become World Emperor by 2014, but hey, remember that Grand Rants is about “Our World Discussed.”  And sometimes that discussion goes to those few remaining sources of entertainment left in a world that’s teetering on the brink.

One of those sources bade us farewell last night. Jay Leno has passed that noble position of host of “The Tonight Show” to Conan O’Brien. No offense to Conan, but good luck – you’ll need it.

NBC treated Leno rather shabbily from the get-go. Shortly after naming him as the man to take the reigns from Johnny Carson, David Letterman started whining and threatened to leave his “Late Night” show in protest.  Carson made it known that he wanted Letterman to have the gig as well. Suddenly, the execs at NBC were having “buyers remorse” in having signed Leno to a long-term contract.

In that now-famous telephone conference, NBC executives from New York and LA discussed how they might be able to get rid of Leno in favor of Letterman. What they didn’t know was that Leno had heard about the conference call and was hiding in a closet adjacent to the conference room at the NBC Studio in Burbank  where the West Coast execs were on the phone to New York. They also had no idea that Leno listened to the entire call from an extension.

He knew the majority of them had turned against him. Even long-time friend Arsenio Hall got into the late night talk show game and vowed to “kick Leno’s ass.” But rather than demand legislation for fairness, Leno simply worked twice as hard to prove them all wrong. Rather than seek some sort of vengeance or to embarrass his bosses, he simply worked his tail off every day to make sure his Tonight Show would be number one.  It’s a lesson in behavior and professionalism we could all learn from, especially those men and women serving in our Congress.  Sometimes it’s best to simply shut the pie-hole and let your work speak on your behalf.

As for Arsenio Hall, his show folded in about 6 months. Leno graciously invited Hall onto the Tonight Show to show there were no hard feelings. There was no gloating by Leno.

Meanwhile, Letterman announced he would also move to 11:30 (later both would move to 11:35) but he jumped ship and went to CBS to go head-to-head against Leno.

For the first 6 months or so, Letterman led Leno in the ratings. Something that didn’t escape the attention of NBC executives.

Leno continued to put his heart and soul into making the Tonight Show better and better. On the other hand, Letterman appeared to be “mailing it in” and acted as if the war was won.

Not long after, the late night battle WAS won… by Leno. In another example of his work ethic, he had taken the Carson Franchise and molded it into his own unique presentation, one that remained in the number one slot for over 15 straight years. He  weathered the storm of controversy  (and NBC abuse) and used that to feed his hunger to work harder.

Leno’s success is one of the classic of examples how, if we all can stay focused on our goals and ignore the criticism, backstabbing, and envy of others, we can also achieve what others might see as impossible. A man who has an insatiable appetite for automobiles, he took only the high roads throughout his 17 year journey.

The only nights he missed during that time was a few nights when his parents died and, more recently, when he wound up in the hospital with a temperature of 103 degrees. In an age where the word “Celebrity” has become synonymous with “Self-absorbed narcissist, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would describe Leno as anything but a hard-working, friendly guy with a smile and a handshake for anyone he meets. Show business Our society could use a lot more like him.

Conan O'Brien

Conan O'Brien

I’d hate to be in Conan O’Brien’s shoes. But then, 17 years ago, he was plucked from a writer’s behind-the-scenes job with NO experience hosting television and was given the coveted position of replacing David Letterman at NBC for his Late Night show. Using the same work ethic, O’Brien has made that slot his own over the past 17 years.

See? And you thought we could learn nothing from watching television.

Gerry Ashley


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