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Jay Leno Leaves "Tonight," "Pushing Daisies" Returns, and Alan Alda Drops a "M*A*S*H" Note
May 28, 2009  | By David Bianculli

eno_conan_hmed12p.hmedium.jpgLooking ahead to the weekend, and back to what may be the season's most obscure in-joke TV Extra: Between Jay Leno leaving The Tonight Show, Pushing Daisies returning to ABC and Alan Alda making a M*A*S*H joke on 30 Rock, there's a lot to cover.

So let's get right to it...

Tomorrow night's best bet, in terms of TV history, is Jay Leno's farewell performance on The Tonight Show. Even if you haven't watched the show in years, it's a part of a TV continuum that deserves to be witnessed, and saluted. Leno has been at the Tonight Show helm for 17 years --nine years longer than original hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar combined. (Johnny Carson logged an astounding 30.)

Conan O'Brien, who will take over the show Monday, will be on hand Friday as Leno's special guest. So this is just an advance-planning notice: Tune in NBC tomorrow night at 11:35 p.m. ET. A Tonight Show host is abdicating his crown -- a TV even occurring for only the fourth time in 55 years.



The writers' strike crippled Pushing Daisies by slowing its momentum, and ABC killed it from there. The program, the best new series on TV two seasons ago, will not be back in the fall.

But the final three episodes produced -- programs ABC never bothered to televised -- finally will be shown, beginning this Saturday night at 10 ET. If you've forgotten just how delightful Pushing Daisies is (was?), tuning in for these last three shows will remind you anew.

Could ABC bury these last few gems any deeper than by showing them on Saturday night, in the summer? Yes. In fact, ABC could, and is. It's preceding Daisies with same-week reruns of Wipeout and Here Come the Newlyweds, two competition reality shows with the combined IQ of a dead mole.


Finally, because I promised to write about this if no readers spotted it, here's my favorite Extra of the 2008-09 TV season.

It happened during the finale of NBC's 30 Rock, when Alan Alda, playing Jack's long-lost biological father Milton Green, wanders into the TV studio and overhears a heated conversation between Kenneth the page (Jack McBrayer) and loose-cannon show-within-a-show TV star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan).


The conversation is a convoluted one -- something about Kenneth getting to the bottom of Tracy's childhood trauma, and his excuse for dropping out of high school. Tracy's story is that a school drug dealer ordered him to carve up a baby, which he refused to do. The real story, with which Kenneth confronted Tracy, was that the man was a science teacher, not a drug dealer. That it was a frog he was asked to dissect, not a baby to slice. And that Tracy couldn't do it, and fled in embarrassment.

"It's true," Tracy tells Kenneth, sobbing loudly, as Alda's Milton Green walks in. "There WAS no baby! I was CHICKEN!"


Milton, witnessing this emotional outburst, says to them both, "A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a COMEDY show."

And that was it.

Except -- except -- the highest-rated TV entertainment program of all time, the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" finale of M*A*S*H, had a similar plot.

Alda's Hawkeye was traumatized by a blocked memory of sharing a bus with some Korean refugees when they passed through some very hostile North Korean territory. As Hawkeye remembered it, one woman refugee strangled a chicken she was cradling in order to keep its noisy clucks from attracting the enemy. When Hawkeye's memory was challenged, he finally remembered the woman was holding her baby, not a chicken -- and the sight of her killing it had traumatized him into a sort of selective amnesia.

A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? Yes indeed -- and that night in 1983, 77 percent of all TV viewers that night tuned in to watch.

In my book, that's a great Extra -- my term for TV's hidden in-jokes. For others, found by me and by you, check the TV WORTH WATCHING Extras + Feedback page HERE. If you've never checked it out before, enjoy -- and add under Feedback, if you like, your own first TV favorites and sex symbols.




Shauna said:

I'm thrilled to get to see the last 3 eps of Pushing Daisies. Thank goodness you mentioned it or I never would've found it on my own. I have already erased it from my dvr schedule so I'll have to put it back in especially. Is it 3 in a row or for 3 weeks? (Yes, it is -- May 30, June 6 and 13. Enjoy! -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 28, 2009 8:04 AM

Tom Brinkmoeller said:

Once more your memory vault makes connections few others would. Many of us have watched the M*A*S*H finale a number of times, many of us were set up by the silly dialogue between Tracy and Kenneth to think Alda's remarks were just an extension of the silliness. Make a connection between the two shows, separated by a quarter century? Flew right by me.
Thanks for catching it, but there's one more thing you can do for us: Next time you interview someone from 30 Rock, ask if the writers came up with this idea or if Alda (a marvelous writer) suggested it. (Good idea, Tom. Will do. And thanks. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 28, 2009 8:14 AM

Sarah said:

Thanks for the Extra. That is so cool. I love things like that and am always looking out for them. Kind of like when I was watching the new Star Trek movie and the audience just burst out with laughter when Bones said he was a doctor not a physicist, or when Scotty first beamed them up. You know you have good, smart people working for you when they add subtle yet worth knowing ties like that, and I WILL remember to pay attention when I watch the rerun.

Comment posted on May 28, 2009 12:14 PM

Susan said:

Do you know if ABC is going to show the remaining Eli Stone episodes too? It started and was cancelled at the same time as Pushing Daisies. (The remaining four episodes of Eli WILL be run by ABC, beginning June 20... so ABC's summer lineup isn't a total "Wipeout." -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 28, 2009 6:50 PM

Sherman said:

"30 Rock" is family viewing in our house, but my teen-aged children could not figure out why I laughed out loud (and very loudly) at the chicken-baby-comedy joke. Normally I would have paused the DVR to explain, but I didn't want to interrupt the flow. And even after the show ended, it was just too hard to explain.

I think it says a lot about "30 Rock" that it's must-see TV for my children, and it can wallop me with a joke that was 25 years in the making. (Good for you -- and please show your kids this entry, and your response, to show them why their dad was so smart to, pardon the expression, LOL. And if they're 30 Rock fans as teens, they're precisely the sort of young readers we'd be honored to have here in our little Interweb clubhouse. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 29, 2009 12:04 AM

Rich said:

I'll be honest, I am happy to see Jay Leno leave. He hasn't done anything innovative since the early 1990s. Letterman at least tried unusual comedy bits, but the day Hugh Grant said "I did a bad thing" on Leno (Grant's hooker-thing with Divine Brown)- Leno's rating soared and Letterman never recovered for some reason. Sadly Letterman eventually became a 'shell' of his rascal quirky self (maybe it was the bypass?).
Jay is TOO Safe! He's too P.C. and doesn't want to 'rock the boat'- we can all agree Jay is a 'Nice Guy'. I have no problem with "The Man" but his comedy is soft, easy to swallow, and full of Easy targets- hence I find him often stale. I will Not miss his 'shmaltzy giggles.' Mainly I will remember Jay as a Thief!
Anyone's who's listened to Howard Stern in the last 12-14 years could tell you how many 'bits' or Influences were stolen from Howard's show and re-tooled into Jay's show. He even stole 'Stuttering John' Melendez (Stern made John a star)- I don't see Stern's bits or influences used on Kimmel, Stewart, Conan, Snyder, Letterman, Kilborn, or Ferguson- Only Jay. Jay's even admitted that his writers have done this on Stern's show. Jay is a skunk as far as I'm concerned. Good Riddance. I can't wait to see how many affiliates dump his 10 PM show in the first year.

Long Live Conan! (I don't agree that hiring someone, as Leno did with Melendez, is the same as "stealing" him, and calling Leno a "skunk" because he borrows from previous comedy influences seems equally harsh. Conan O'Brien, after all, has many bits that owe a lot to Johnny Carson and Steve Allen, and even to Ernie Kovacs. You're right, though, that affiliate loyalty is indeed the key to Leno's prime-time success -- but he's been so loyal to them for so many years, and done so many local visits and appearances, he's probably bought himself a sizable honeymoon period. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 29, 2009 4:00 AM
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