How do you replace a legend like Johnny Carson and survive the barbs of David Letterman night in and night out?  I believe it's hard work and one joke at a time.   That's why I'll miss Jay Leno.  He wasn't someone's handpicked prepacked slappy like Jimmy Fallon or Conan O'Brien.  David Letterman may have more talent, but no one has worked harder than Leno.  In a day of indulgence, Jay just works.  He banks his salary from the Tonight Show and lives off of the standup comedy he still performs when not on NBC.

Jay Leno's America
Getty Images Federick M. Brown

Leno has hosted the Tonight Show for 21 seasons.  He has defied the odds and has beaten all competitors and sent many into retirement.  Leno did this without the big lead in numbers of CBS and the lackluster performance of the underwhelming NBC prime time lineup.  The Today show is now the number two watched morning show and Matt Lauer keeps his job.  Nightly News gets beat by ABC and Brian Williams stays.

How does NBC repay Leno who has done nothing but win?  Replace him not once,  Conan disaster O'Brien, but twice this time with unproven goofy Jimmy Fallon.  NBC sure has a funny way of rewarding performance.  You'd think they would've learned the first time.

Jay tells 60 Minutes this Sunday that the suits at NBC blindsided him.  He had no idea it was time for him to go.  He thought he'd hang on for a few more years.  One could understand the network's decision if Leno was slipping.  However Jay has led the pack in every key demo.  Apparently being a winner is not good enough at NBC.

Jay has made his millions and will survive.  I wouldn't be surprised if he shows up on FOX next year when he's allowed to work on TV.  It won't end well for the near do wells Fallon, Letterman, and Kimmel.  America likes a hard worker and Jay's a winner.  But what about the rest of us?

Leno's experience with NBC is a microcosm of what's wrong with our labor force today.  Too many times global corporations talk about loyalty and caring about people.  Like NBC, they rarely practice what they speak.  The Leno lesson is that everyone needs to have a backup plan in case the day job goes bust.  In Jay's case his standup will net him millions while he waits to return to television.

Today's America demands not only hard work and dedication to one's work, but to have a means available to replace the employer before they replace you.




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