Jay Leno returned Monday night to The Tonight Show with only the slightest of nods to the late-night shakeup that ended his primetime run and led to the departure of his successor — and now predecessor — Conan O'Brien.
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"It's good to be home," Leno said of the show business institution he hosted for 17 years. "I'm Jay Leno, your host — at least for a little while."
With that, Leno went into his familiar monologue about the day's news. But this one was more packed than usual, given his weeks off the air since the end of The Jay Leno Show just before the Olympic Games. Leno's joke fodder included airlines, the Olympics, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Toyota.
One of his jokes incorporated both Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn — one of his guests — and his network.
"When it comes to going downhill nobody is faster," he said. "Okay, except NBC."
His first guest, Jamie Foxx, led the crowd in a back-and-forth chant of "Welcome back."
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Leno also referenced his old rival at the 11:35 slot, David Letterman, with whom he and Oprah Winfrey appeared in a Super Bowl ad.
"I've got to admit that I'm a little nervous," Leno said. "Not because it's my first night back. Because I know that Dave and Oprah are watching."
In another nod to his return, he traveled to different families' homes, trying out desks to decide which one he should use on the air. The segment featured American Idol judge Randy Jackson and, curiously, Adam Corolla. Corolla co-hosted The Man Show with Jimmy Kimmel, who ridiculed Leno as aggressively as anyone during the shakeup that cost O'Brien his job.
Nowhere in sight were the higher-concept ideas Leno brought to his 10 o'clock show, such as musical comedy numbers and races between eco-friendly vehicles.
A striking new backdrop notwithstanding, what was most notable about the re-introduced show was how much it resembled Leno's old version of The Tonight Show. Among the familiar sights: Leno joking with bandleader Kevin Eubanks, who is reportedly leaving the show.
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After playing Eubanks footage of what he said were the world's tightest pants — in extreme close-up — he joked, "Isn't 11:30 a lot more fun?"
Also marking a late-night milestone was Jimmy Fallon, who celebrated the one-year anniversary of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon after the new Tonight Show aired.
What do you think? Will Leno be more fun in his new, old timeslot?