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Leno’s Clunky Return, Dave Takes High Road

Jay Leno’s second stint as host of “The Tonight Show” began on Monday, Leno and to the surprise of no one, the new (kind of) show looked a whole lot like the old one. Then again, Leno never wanted to leave in the first place, so it’s understandable that he would retreat to his comfort zone — that is, an extended monologue, a comedy bit, and oh yeah, a couple of guests.

Despite a “Wizard of Oz” spoof to open the show, it was all too familiar, though everything felt a little bit out of sorts. The monologue — always Leno’s strength — seemed a trifle rushed in places, and a taped segment in which the host looked for a new desk proved equally flat.

Then Jamie Foxx came out and engaged in a level of shameless cheerleading that bordered on the obnoxious — as if trying too hard to endorse Leno’s return. Finally, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn joined him, but as usual Leno couldn’t muster much of an interview for a less-well-known guest — and even rather boorishly asked whether her husband/coach also gave her direction in the bedroom.

“Isn’t 11:30 a lot more fun?” Leno asked near the end of the monologue. Actually, if this is as good as it gets, nope, sure isn’t.

As for David Letterman, Leno’s rival tried to take the high road, toning down the acidity level toward the guy he’d been derisively calling “big-jaw Jay.” Maybe we should dispatch Oprah to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Same time, same host,” was all Letterman said in his opening, later joking that Leno had “nothing to do” with another New York governor being on the outs. Hi-yo!

The Olympics are over, but it’s pretty clear the latenight games have only just begun. Leno is well suited to the marathon, and I suspect the audience will settle back into old habits, with a modicum of erosion. But we’ll see.

One thing that nobody should get too excited about, though, is Leno’s wildly appreciative studio audience, which stood and applauded frantically. Hey, they greeted Conan with standing ovations, too — and look how that turned out.

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