Jay Leno, being inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame Tuesday night, said he’s glad he left NBC’s Tonight Show when he did because he was the oldest person on the show. Everyone else was 20 to 40 years younger than him and, while you may think you’re holding your own with them, “they’re really just laughing at you,” he explained. “You can’t be hip past a certain age. You have old guy gestures.” And when you make references to The Dick Van Dyke Show they think it’ s “a lesbian joke or something” — and they don’t understand what you’re talking about when you say the time is “Half past 2.”
Leno told the Beverly Wilshire hotel gathering his favorite book is Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” — a searing indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism – and his favorite character in that classic work of literature, Mr. Fezziwig, who treated a young Ebenezer Scrooge like a son. Leno mentioned this by way of saying how proud he was that his Tonight Show was a place where people came to work hard during the day and, at 6, they went home to be with their family.
Even though he’s now “jobless and penniless” Leno still is a “fantastic standup,” said Bill Maher, who inducted Leno into the Hall, and the fact people are wondering what he will do next proves he’s still relevant, the HBO show host said. He described Leno’s more than two decades hosting Tonight as a drive down a highway in “some giant gleaming pristine luxury car with the competition far in the rearview mirror – except one time when NBC,” driving some beat-up clunker, “blindsided him and beat the shit out of his beautiful car.” Maher blamed TV critics for rewriting history to make Leno’s predecessor, Johnny Carson out to be some guy who did a “rebellious, edgy, film noir version” of Tonight Show that by comparison made Jay look like a milquetoast. “That’s all bullshit — and I say that as a fan of Carson,” Maher said. Leno is the victim of “some bad publicity over the years” that he did not deserve – most famously how America got it into its head that “Jay Leno stole Conan O’Brien’s dream,” Maher complained calling it, “the most hysterical thought I’ve ever heard, in a business known for bullshit.”
“Jay reminds me a little of Israel,” Maher continued. “He isn’t perfect but he’s held to standard I don’t think anybody in the world is expected to live up to but him,” he said, calling Leno “the most Machiavellian and also the most morally upright person I know in show business. He will hide in a closet but never needs a confessional booth.”
Amy Poehler, who introduced inductee Julia Louis-Dreyfus, said the night’s one big take away was “let’s all remember TV is better than film and everybody knows it.” Dreyfus said her favorite high school teacher was her physics teacher who told her to, “have fun at all costs,” which she has tried to do ever since, though Seinfeld creator/EP Larry David once told her husband, of having the country’s most popular comedy series on TV, “there is no joy – not one minute of joy.”
Inductee David E. Kelly, meanwhile, thanked mentor Steven Bochco, but quoted poet Robert Frost, ”No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” which the writer/producer translated: “If you don’t pour your heart into something don’t expect a similar investment from your audience.”
Sound pioneer and innovator Ray Dolby was inducted posthumously.
Rupert Murdoch, the founder, chairman and CEO of NewsCorp who was maybe the night’s one controversial inductee at the academy’s 23rd annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony — what with his U.K. newspaper phone-hacking scandal, his polarizing Fox News Channel, and who can forget “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” (he was inducted for creating our fourth broadcast network against the odds, and breaking boundaries with shows like The Simpsons, In Living Color and Modern Family) — said he got into the television business because “I believe in providing consumers with choice.” In five years, he noted, over 60% of the world’s population will have a smart phone.” That’s billions of people “with our shows in their pockets…This revolution is still in its infancy.”
Inductee Brandon Stoddard told a story about being a college student, watching his father in court defending communists who were as “scary as a knitting club” back in the Smith Act era. His father, he said, had lost most of his other clients because he’d agreed to represent the communists. ”That day in court made a great impression on me,” he said. As an executive at ABC, he put on longform programs that had at their root “themes of freedom and justice,” including Roots and The Day After which, he said, had no advertisers” except Orville Redenbacher, who “must have had a CPM of 12 cents.” Some southern stations refused to air Roots and he and his children received death threats, he remembered. “I always believed TV shows should first and foremost entertain, but they should also enlighten and bring new ideas…to the audience. The audience is not dumb. They are as smart as you are,” Stoddard said, warning, “it is so easy to lose sight of the goal because of the huge pressure to succeed.”