Can Leno Revive "Nice Guy" Image?

Letterman's competition is "Tonight" show host Jay Leno, who earns $26 million a year. AP

It's back to the future for Jay Leno.

After NBC's primetime debacle, Leno returns Monday to "The Tonight Show," where he was No. 1 for most of his 17 years behind the desk.

Leno's show was a primetime experiment that went south -- fast. CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reported for seven months, Leno was a ratings disaster. In the same time, "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" lost three million viewers. It was humiliating all around. However, while Leno and Conan O'Brien tanked, David Letterman's ratings on CBS got a big boost, jumping from 3.9 million viewers to 4.2 million.

But will Leno's return to "The Tonight Show," end Letterman's reign as late night's king -- or seal it?

Tracy pointed out Leno's "nice guy" image has taken a hit following his foray into primetime. Many people also believe he kicked O'Brien to the curb to get his old job back. And, Tracy added, Leno may have hit below the belt when he joked about Letterman's admitted infidelities, saying, "What's the best way to get Letterman to ignore you? Marry him."

So Leno hit Hollywood's road to redemption, landing where many have before he: Oprah's couch.

On her show, Leno said he's going to "work hard to try and rehabilitate" his image.

Tracy reported Leno's new "Tonight Show," to be filmed in Burbank, Calif., is expected to be a lot like his old one, but he'll have a new announcer. Already, big-name guests, including Jamie Foxx, Simon Cowell and Sarah Palin, are lining up for return.

As for O'Brien, he's made his way onto Twitter. One recent post says, "I had a show. Then I had a different show. Now I have a Twitter account."

Paula Froelich, a novelist and pop culture commentator, said Leno will have to be patient to get back his audience. She said he's likely to have a great draw the first week, but it's likely the numbers will fall later.

"At the end of the day, people like my Aunt Dee in Ohio don't care about NBC executives," Froelich said. "My Aunt Dee in Ohio just knows that he went off the air at 11:30, so she had to find something else to watch. And now she likes her other show."

Mo Rocca, a CBS Sunday Morning contributor and former "Tonight Show" correspondent, pressed Froelich, saying, "What other show?"

She responded that many viewers have moved on to other shows, and have experienced a boost in ratings.

But Rocca disagrees with Froelich's view, saying viewers will come right back to Leno and things will likely be as they were before Leno left the show.

"I think the restoration will be complete," Rocca said. "The Conan problem will have been forgotten. Jay didn't kill anyone as far as I know."
  • CBSNews

Comments