Sunday, January 4, 2015

Behind the Curtain: An Insiders's View of Jay Leno's Tonight Show by Dave Berg


My second read of 2105 is another nonfiction - 3 out of my last 4 reads has been nonfiction, unusual for me, but I have enjoyed the break from fiction.  I have been a night owl all my life, so naturally that meant that I was a regular watcher of the Tonight Show in high school and beyond.  I could have wept on Johnny Carson's last night on the air, but Jay soon drew me in as a fan.  And of course, any viewer of Johnny in the 1980s was already familiar with Jay since he was such a frequent guest-host. 

That said, I did get drawn into watching David Letterman, especially when his Top Ten was new and fresh.  Then Conan on Late Night caught my attention for a short time, mainly because some family members liked him. In recent years, my late night television had waned; if I did watch, I never made it beyond the monologue and Jay Walking episodes/comedy episodes.  Still I was fan enough to respect Jay Leno's quick wit and I felt that he was getting a raw deal from NBC.  That's why I wanted to read BEHIND THE CURTAIN.  Jay, himself, wrote a forward to this book.  At first I was surprised when he said he had not read the book, but that he trusted Dave Berg to tell a truthful story.
As I read the book, I totally understood that statement.  This is not a book of Jay whining about the bad things that happened behind the scenes, but writer Dave, who served as an assistant producer could point everything in a more neutral way.  He could point out mistakes Jay and his staff made, as well as show how Jay was often miscast and underappreciated by the bigwigs of entertainment.  I was actually surprised at all the behind the scenes action there was, especially in playing the ratings game against Letterman.  Snagging the "right" politician or star first was full time work for Berg, and he had many interesting stories to tell including stories about Hugh Grant, Jerry Seinfeld,  First Lady Laura Bush, and President Obama,  Being a book about Jay and the show, there have to be car stories and also some backstage dish about some of those animals that frequented the show.  My favorite part of the book were the small glimpses into the personal Jay Leno - his deep respect for his parents and his wife, his struggle with dyslexia, and his early days in the business.  If you've been a Leno fan, I suggest you read the book.  

Reading the book made me a little sad that Jay isn't on tv right now, but as Berg says television is changing.  I do catch Jimmy Fallon for a few minutes once and awhile, but I sure do miss Jay's sharp-witted monologues.  

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