While watching Jay Leno tearfully say good-bye to his Tonight Show audience last week I found myself thinking about his show on February 1, 1993. I was working at NBC5 at the time so I had the chance to get a behind the scenes look at The Tonight Show. I wasn’t there to see the musical guest Shawn Colvin or the bird callers. I was there because it was the day after Super Bowl XXVII and the MVP of the game was a guest. Perhaps you have heard of him; Troy Aikman.
When I arrived at the Burbank studios of NBC around two o’clock in the afternoon, I was greeted by Jay himself. He gave us a tour of the backstage area and let us do some interviews before the show since our story was going to air in the newscast right before the Tonight Show. We got great stuff including then music director Kevin Eubanks working the entire day in a Speedo (he lost his Super Bowl bet with Jay). We interviewed Troy in the green room, shot some of the show prep meetings and then put a piece together that was the lead story on the ten o’clock news.
It was a really fun and memorable day. I came away from it thinking what a great guy Jay was. He didn’tt pawn us off on a PR type, he spent time with us and we got everything we needed to do a great story. But it wasn’t until about a month later that I learned what a great guy Jay Leno really is.
Sometime in February I was at a luncheon and among those in attendance was my boss, the general manager of NBC5 at the time, Doug Adams. He complimented me on all the work I had done at the Super Bowl that year and then told the table a story that told me all I needed to know about Jay.
Doug told us that he was working though lunch one day in early February and since his assistant was out having her lunch he decided to answer his own phone.
He did so saying, “Doug Adams office.”
The caller said, “Is Doug available?”
“This is Doug!”
“Yea right!?! Doug Adams answers his own phone!”
To which Doug replied, “Well normally he doesn’t but my assistant is out at lunch so I did just this once.” And the caller said, “Oh, ok well this is Jay Leno.”
Doug didn’t believe him, “Right.” He says, “Jay Leno just picked up the phone and called me.” Jay said, “Normally I would have an assistant call but everyone was busy…” Once they both finally believed they were who they said they were, Jay said, “I just want to tell you how much we appreciate you doing the story and promoting our show on your news the day after the Super Bowl.”
Doug was like, “Oh no problem Mr. Leno, it is the least we can do.” (Once Doug finally believed him he went all formal with Mr. Leno!)
Jay went on to say, “John Rhadigan and Kerry Smith came by the studios and I just want to tell you that they did a great job, they were not a nuisance, they got the job done and got out of our way. So congratulations on hiring two true professionals and thanks again for promoting the Tonight Show.”
Needless to say I was beaming with pride as my boss told this story to a table full of NBC5 staff. What struck me that day was this thought, “I can never watch Dave Letterman again.” Jay Leno was and is a great guy. He was painted as a villain in the Conan O’Brien saga, but I don’t believe it.
Personally I have grown weary of all of the interview shows. I don’t watch them nearly as much as I once did since there are too many other options these days. But I must admit that I miss Jay already. Whether you liked his show, or not believe me when I tell you he is a great guy.