Dear Jay Leno,
Jay, you probably don't remember me. I sat next to you on a television set in Syracuse, NY, back when you were taking over for Johnny. You were gracious. You were humble. You were encouraging. Complimentary, even.
When exactly did you change? Or was that just an act?
Let me tell you how I feel as you retire (again) from The Tonight Show:
You can't get gone soon enough.
You should've been gone a while ago. But when the NBC-time-slot/Conan's-at-12:05 debacle went down, you pulled a complete about-face on every promise you'd publicly made to Mr. O'Brien.
You could've taken the high road and split. You could've shrugged it off as a wrinkle in the biz. You didn't need the money. Hell, even if you did, you could've sold off one of those (approximately) 1,786 vintage cars you own to buy chin moisturizer or The Blood of a Virgin or whatever it is you bathe in.
But, nope. A few years back you were complicit as NBC screwed a guy with heart and talent and guts out of what could have spun into a great chapter for The Tonight Show. I don't want to hear about the cosmic scheduling fuckup perpetrated by NBC to cut the budget in prime-time. You could've walked away. You could've stuck up for the guy that stuck up for others, the way Conan stuck up for Jimmy Fallon. There were other jobs out there. The red-haired guy you shafted wanted no part of moving a colleague's show, so he just refused. Because it was the right thing to do.
Conan didn't seem to exhibit the same kind of sour-grapes-attitude we saw from Letterman. To my eyes, that was a fair, head to head fight - you got the gig, Dave didn't. Conan? Conan looked like he got sucker-punched by a network in collusion with a Machiavellian puppet-master.
Conan wound up with a decent gig on cable, but the desk that was sanctified by Johnny and bastardized by you goes to Fallon. Jimmy's an entertaining enough dude, but Conan was there first, and you were an accomplice in robbing an edgy, brilliant gentleman of the job that was clearly the pinnacle of his career.
In the end, you lessened a position that was once iconic. Every comic in America loved Johnny Carson. Every comic in America wanted a turn on that show. Every comic in America wanted an invitation to that couch. You were on Johnny's show. You knew what it meant.
Carson took the foundation built by the likes of Parr and Allen and turned The Tonight Show into an institution.
You, you and your bullying ways turned it into a punchline.
And you know what? You were never terribly funny, either.
A Former Touring Standup Comic