Jay Leno tells Oprah he’s not worried about ratings. Should he be?

On Friday's live edition of Oprah Winfrey's show, Jay Leno spoke to Oprah via satellite about his first two weeks competing in primetime on NBC. Oprah also turned the tables on Leno with her own silly 10 questions segment.


But about The Jay Leno Show? When Oprah asked him how he was coping with the increased scrutiny, Leno defended himself, noting that "numbers that make you number one now would have gotten you cancelled 10 or 15 years ago," and accurately pointed out that his second week was also the debut week for ABC and CBS, making this "probably the hardest week of the whole year for us."

The numbers bore that out. His first week at 10 p.m. E/P (9 p.m. C/M) earned him plenty of eyeballs, while the second week revealed a steep drop-off. In millions of viewers, Monday-Friday, it looked like this:

Week One: 18.4, 11.1, 13.4, 8.8, 7.6

Week Two: 5.7, 6.8, 6.4, 5.0

Why worry, though? "I'm 59 years old. I'm in a young person's game. I have a lot of fun with this. I'm just glad to come to work and tell jokes," Leno told Oprah. "My goal is to make show-business money and lead a normal life…"If it's a hit, that would be great. If not, oh well, I did the Tonight Show for 17 years. And that's that. Any other attitude and you go crazy."

He said he'd like to eventually rank second among the three networks at 10 p.m. (Fox airs local news), and score some number ones "when the other shows are all in repeats."

That said, Leno clearly has a lot of work ahead of him and seriously should consider retooling his primetime show to be, well, a little bit more enjoyable to watch. The live and taped pieces from his many comedy correspondents are all over the map, quality-wise, and a lot of that seems to result from a lack of quality control from the top. The funnier comics who have experience with producing their own segments and sketches are coming off a lot better than those who don't. And Leno's show, for all of its new gimmicks, still comes off like an even tamer (if that was possible) and lamer version of his Tonight Show. It's not all bad. But it's not all good, either. The New Yorker weighed in with its own scathing review this week. The other day, I saw an episode that seemed to get the idea of putting "more comedy" into the variety hour, with Christina Applegate telling a story about the Emmys, a guy chipping golf balls into another guy's helmet, Vince Vaughn presiding over a quiz with audience members tossing coconuts, a product-placement gimmick, and audience members cheering, screaming and dancing. Yes. I watched Ellen DeGeneres. Would Ellen's syndicated daytime show get anywhere near the viewers Leno attracts? I don't know that answer. I'm not Nostradamus. Or am I? The point is, she has figured out how to host and present five hours of comedy/variety every week. There's no reason why Leno cannot find his own way to do it at night.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “Jay Leno tells Oprah he’s not worried about ratings. Should he be?

  1. Neither of those sets of ratings seem very useful when trying to divine the future for Mr. Leno. The first week was his much hyped premiere week, up against the last dredges of summer reruns. The second week was facing season and series premieres across the board. You gotta believe he’ll end up somewhere between.

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