- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jay notches 15 tonight

Marking his 15th year as host of “The Tonight Show” this evening, Jay Leno understands his role with NBC’s late-night institution like a good comedian knows timing.

“Tonight” isn’t his; he’s just borrowing it.

“The real trick is you never really do own these shows. You try not to screw it up for the next person,” Mr. Leno told Associated Press. “It’s like the America’s Cup [sailing trophy]. You want to win it and you want to keep it No. 1, and when it’s over you say, ‘Whew, OK, your proble now.’ ’

The only one who could rightfully stake a claim, Mr. Leno said, was Johnny Carson, who presided over the NBC program for 30 years (1962-92) as its third high-profile host and the most enduring.

“Obviously, Johnny owned the show and set the tone. Steve Allen was great and Jack Paar was great, but every talk show is a variation of what Johnny did. You’re always in that shadow,” Mr. Leno said.

The late-night ratings leader isn’t making a big deal of the anniversary. But he’s planned a few surprises for tonight’s show and allowed NBC to invite some media attention. The network also set up a Web site where viewers can dabble in creating their own “Tonight” music video and promos.

In an interview this week, Mr. Leno was low-key about the event. He spoke just after he’d taped a show and bolted from the NBC studio, as he usually does, for his vast warehouse garage a few miles away. His collection of rare and fast cars and motorcycles is stored there.

That’s one of his primary passions. Others include his wife, Mavis, a human rights activist, and “Tonight.”

“That’s the real key to [the show]. It’s not that you can’t have a life. It just needs to become your life,” Mr. Leno, 57, said.

Given how hard he fought to get “Tonight” and how much he puts into it, he’s oddly sanguine about his announced, not-too-distant departure. He plans to surrender the show in 2009 and make way for NBC’s “Late Night” host Conan O’Brien, who has his endorsement.

Setting an end date, Mr. Leno said, slams the door on a repeat of what he and his chief rival for “Tonight,” David Letterman, endured as NBC dithered over filling Mr. Carson’s chair.

“I don’t want to see anybody go through what we went through. … This huge battle,” Mr. Leno said.

Under his stewardship, “Tonight” has plotted a safe and steady course. There have been changes, including a monologue that’s doubled in size to about 11 minutes, more comedy bits and skits and less time for interviews. “Tonight” has also retained its cachet. It’s been a forum for apologetic stars (most notably Hugh Grant after his arrest with a prostitute), for an actor announcing his run for California governor and a parade of would-be U.S. presidents currying voter favor.

So why leave so soon, compared to Mr. Carson? And in what will be season 17, not exactly a nice round figure?

“I’m not a big numbers guy,” Mr. Leno says with a shrug. “Conan is sort of waiting in the wings for his thing. How long do you expect people to wait in the wings?”

HBO’s ‘Knee’ falls short

The horrors inflicted upon Indians have traditionally made for wrenching drama, but this loose adaptation of “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” Dee Alexander Brown’s seminal 1971 book, is a powerful story limply told, steeped in tired Western cliches and an overbearing score, Variety says.

A few emotional moments emerge almost by default, but a splintered focus and uneven storytelling largely negate them as well as the efforts of the large cast. The made-for-cable film stars Adam Beach as Charles Eastman, a young, Dartmouth-educated Sioux doctor held up as living proof of the success of assimilation; August Schellenberg as Sitting Bull, the proud Lakota chief who refuses to submit to U.S. government policies designed to strip his people of their identity, their dignity and their sacred land — the gold-laden Black Hills of the Dakotas; and Aidan Quinn as Sen. Henry Dawes, one of the architects of the government policy on Indian affairs.

Bob’s final ‘Price’

After months of suspense, CBS announced Wednesday that Bob Barker’s 35-year tenure as host of “The Price Is Right” will conclude with an episode set for June 15, Zap2it.com reports.

Mr. Barker’s final “Price” will initially air in its regular 11 a.m. daytime slot and gets an encore showing that night in prime time at 8 p.m. The evening broadcast will lead directly into CBS’ telecast of the 34th Annual Daytime Emmys, a ceremony that will see Mr. Barker up for two awards to add to an already hefty pile. In his time as host, he’s earned 13 individual Emmys and three Emmys as one of the show’s producers.

Bud gets a break

A disorderly intoxication charge against David Faustino was dropped, but the actor who played Bud Bundy on “Married with Children” still faces a drug charge, AP reports.

The charge was dropped Tuesday because Mr. Faustino’s May 12 arrest in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. was sufficient punishment for the disorderly intoxication charge, Linda Pruitt, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office said.

Mr. Faustino still faces a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession, punishable by up to a year in prison, Miss Pruitt said. He has pleaded not guilty. Trial is scheduled for July.

Police spotted Mr. Faustino, 33, and his 31-year-old wife, Andrea, at an intersection on May 11. Mr. Faustino reportedly tried to climb out the car window, then opened the door. The actor tried to walk away when police confronted the couple. The officer smelled alcohol on Mr. Faustino’s breath and found a plastic bag with a gram of marijuana in his pocket, police said.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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