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Jay Leno back on 'Tonight Show' as TV landscape changes

Jay Leno has bumped Conan O'Brien to return to his 'Tonight Show' spot. But with cable TV, the Internet, and comics such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert drawing younger audiences, late-night TV is changing dramatically.

By Staff writer, Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 1, 2010

Jay Leno returns to 'The Tonight Show' Monday night.

Matt Sayles/AP/File


Los Angeles

Jay Leno returns to “The Tonight Show” berth Monday night, but the late-night television landscape has changed dramatically since the last time he ascended to this coveted seat back in 1992, when Johnny Carson departed.

Cable, Internet, and the DVR have fragmented audiences. A whole new generation of media consumers has grown up with little, if any, broadcast-network loyalty. And comics such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher have moved comedy light-years past the amiable PG-ness of an earlier era.

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NBC, now mired in fourth place among networks, has suffered more than most. And the perceived nastiness of the tussle between Mr. Leno and Conan O’Brien for the 11:35 p.m. slot has not helped the network. (Monitor report on how Leno-O'Brien feud hurt NBC.)

“No matter how they paint this pig, the last-place network has lost a huge swath of TV-watchers,” says Richard Laermer, author of “Punk Marketing” and “Trend Spotting 2011.”

“Jay Leno’s return to late-night will be tarnished,” says John O’Leary, who teaches communications at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “One of the most salient aspects of Leno’s public persona was his image as a nice, humble guy. Now, because of the controversy with Conan O’Brien, he comes across as somewhat selfish and opportunistic.”

Younger viewers resent O'Brien's treatment