What's All This Then?

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I’m not a fan of Jay Leno. I never thought he was an appropriate successor to the years of Johnny Carson, Jack Paar and Steve Allen. Those were giants. Leno isn’t in the same class. The only time I see anything of him is when I’m flipping from channel to channel if I happen to keep the TV on after John Stewart says goodnight. That’s "The Daily Show" for those of you who watch Fox to get your "news."

I’m not that crazy about Letterman either, but I find it hard to believe that he lags behind Leno in audience size. But my comments today aren’t about the rivalry between these two late night TV hosts. It’s about Leno’s involvement in the Michael Jackson trial.

Leno testified yesterday and said that while Jackson’s accuser did call him on the phone and bug him, he never asked for money. I suppose that could be true. It could be that the kid and his family hadn’t reached the point where they were ready to put the bite on Leno, but I assume that he was interviewed by a defense investigator and I assume that based on whatever he said in that interview, the defense expected Leno to testify that he had been asked for money. So you have to wonder what happened here. For sure Jackson’s lawyers didn’t call him to provide an entertainment break.

But from the reports of his testimony, some of which apparently drew laughs in the courtroom, one might think that’s what Leno believed. I’m usually the cynical one in my house, but it was my wife who suggested that maybe he wanted to testify because of the material he could gather for his monologue and for skits on his show - and so deliberately gave the impression that his testimony would be more than it turned out to be.

From what I’ve heard and read about last night’s "Tonight Show"- taped within hours of his testimony in a case where a man is on trial - virtually for his life, because if Michael Jackson goes to jail, he may well not survive - my wife may be right.

Both Leno and Letterman have been making jokes about Jackson and the trial since it began - as has John Stewart and others in the laugh business. And under our legal system, as opposed to the way they do things in the UK for example - trial testimony is public as it unfolds and is fair game for comedy and for ridicule.

But when you are subpoenaed to be a witness for the defense at a criminal trial and your regular job happens to be that of comedian and late night talk show host on national television, one would hope that instead of using your appearance to gather material to create zingers that you can inject one after another into your opening monologue hours after you’ve finished testifying, a sense of common decency would persuade you to back off on making jokes about the guy who’s on trial. At least for that one day - the day when you were a part of the trial.

How refreshing it would have been for Leno to have walked out on stage and told his audience that though the temptation was strong, he wasn’t going to tell jokes about the Jackson trial or his appearance earlier in the day. That while we may think the trial and Michael Jackson are like gifts from the Gods of comedy, it’s something very different when you’re there in the courtroom, being asked to give testimony that could have some influence on the outcome of the case. That all joking aside, there’s a guy on trial for what may be his life. That there are moments when decency cries out for you to give the jokes a rest - even if it’s just for one night. And this is one of those moments.

Leno didn’t say anything like that. I think Carson would have. And Paar. And Allen. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they were giants and Leno isn’t.

Something Smells in Detroit

If Leno wants a trial to joke about, here’s a suggestion for him. The deejay who lost her job at a Detroit radio station owned by Infinity Broadcasting, sued and got awarded 10.6 million bucks.

Her complaint? She claimed she was allergic to another deejay’s perfume and it made her ill. She lost her voice. She complained of feeling an electric shock "quell through her entire body."

The employers said they asked the other deejay to quit wearing the perfume. She did. They also changed the on-air schedules so the women wouldn’t come in contact with each other. But the allergic deejay didn’t come to work for long periods of time and the station fired her.

Discrimination she yelled. Because of her disability!! Her allergies made her disabled and that disability entitled her to not show up for work for long periods of time without getting fired.

Anyone who knows anything about the radio business knows that a deejay can be fired without notice and at a moment’s notice, and for any reason - as long as his or her contract is paid off - assuming they have a contract. But a six woman jury deliberated for eight days and finished up buying the deejay’s story and figuring it was worth seven million in punitive damages, two million for mental anguish and emotional distress and 1.6 million for past and future compensation.

I’m sure the deejays of the nation are watching this one closely. Specially all who have been fired at one time or another - and that probably covers 95% of all on the air "personalities." Also all persons with lousy allergies, which includes my wife. I’m already trying to figure out what kind of scam we can come up with to get her categorized as a "disabled" person with her disability exacerbated by her work environment to the extent that she needs to stay away from that environment for long periods of time - and of course still get paid her full salary. But if the news of the Detroit verdict gets around, those sneaky people she works for will probably catch on to what she’s doing and refuse to fire her.

Infinity Broadcasting is appealing the verdict, so it may not be a story down the road. Out of the hands of the six lady bountifuls and in front of a somber appeals judge, it may disappear like a will-o-the-wisp. But if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flood of lawsuits from fired deejays and laid off allergy sufferers - and that could give Leno and the other late night hosts material for a whole slew of monologues and skits. Maybe enough to forget about Michael Jackson for a while.