Jay Leno is back hosting "The Tonight Show," and the stars followed him — his first night featured Jamie Foxx, Lindsey Vonn, and Betty White. Tonight is Sarah Palin. NBC is hoping the viewers who abandoned the show when Conan O'Brien took over last year will follow Leno back, too. But was it worth the horrendous PR and melodrama of the very public Conan-Leno brawl, plus tens of millions of dollars in severance, to bring Leno back to late night? (Watch a CGI reenactment of Leno's bout with Conan O'Brien)
Leno will be No. 1 again soon: The Leno-Conan debacle was "humiliating all around," but as soon as the dust settles, Leno's "restoration will be complete," says former "Tonight Show" correspondent Mo Rocca at CBS News. "The Conan problem will have been forgotten," and Leno will be back beating Letterman.
"Can Leno revive 'nice guy' image?"
Conan was too edgy for the show: Leno's bland, comfortable humor was always a better match for "The Tonight Show" than Conan's "stagey awkwardness," says James Poniewozik in Time. And NBC's making a good gamble that its viewers will want to treat the whole "Conantroversey" as "a bad dream" and let "let Jay put [them] back to bed again."
"Jay Leno's long nightmare is over"
Anything's better than last year: NBC's "utterly incompetent, shockingly stupid executives" should never have messed up their old lineup, says Matt Cherette in Gawker. Conan's "Tonight Show" was "a dumbed-down, less entertaining version of 'Late Night,'" and "The Jay Leno Show" just stunk. I no longer "'love' Leno," but I'll at least watch him again.
"Devil's advocate: In defense of Jay Leno"
Leno's return was a disaster: If Monday's show was representative of Leno's comeback, NBC should have left Conan in charge, says Roger Catlin in the Hartford Courant. "Foxx was the worst possible guest." And Leno's monologue was "short and not that good" — many of his typical one-liner was not even "good enough to be a groaner."
"Review: Leno's first night back on 'Tonight'"
Leno's just boring: There's nothing really wrong with Leno, says Steve Johnson in the Chicago Tribune. His monologue was safe, but full of "modest, well-constructed jokes." But his new show, like his old one, has "neither pop, nor sizzle, nor surprise." Conan's promising "experimentalism" was at least worth watching.
"Jay Leno's uncomfortable return to the 'Tonight Show'"
NBC's whole new lineup stinks: Leno has good guests lined up, says David Zurawik in The Baltimore Sun. But when they're not on stage, we get "Leno and one of the least imaginative team of writers and filmmakers in TV." Maybe Leno in prime time wasn't working, but putting a "damaged" Leno after a "wretched" Seinfeld-produced reality show is worse.
"Leno's return to latenight: A tale of two shows"
NBC erased 2009: Watching the new "Tonight Show" is odd, because "nothing's changed," says Hank Stuever in The Washington Post. Leno's still "talented in the most mediocre of ways." Conan? Never happened. If NBC succeeds in retaking the late-night lead — and we won't know that for a while — it will be because they successfully turned back the clock to 2008.
"Leno's return to 'Tonight' gives off victorious air"
SEE MORE OPINION BRIEFS ON THIS TOPIC:
• Did "Oprah" restore Leno's image?
• Can Jeff Zucker survive at NBC?
• Conan's bombshell statement
• Leno vs. Conan
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