You have to hand it to Jay Leno, he certainly had a power-packed premiere for his new prime-time show Monday.
Beyond the announced first guest of Jerry Seinfeld, there was a surprise appearance by Oprah via remote video screen. And then in the big moment, came Kanye West, hot or cold, depending on your point of view, off his controversial MTV Video Music Awards show debacle in which he boorishly interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech Sunday night.
Everyone was talking about it Monday, and here comes an emotional, seemingly contrite and somewhat confused West to sit down with Leno and say how sorry he was for what he did and how he needed to "take some time off" and figure out "how he wants to live" the rest of the life in the wake of the "pain" he caused.
West was a scheduled guest, but even Leno said on-air that he wasn't sure whether or not the performer would appear after the criticism he was facing for his MTV actions.
And West did seem rocked by the scorn that had been heaped upon him the last 24 hours. Whether he was authentic or not, it was very good television -- you could almost feel the audience hold its breath as West fumbled with his emotions, especially when Leno asked him what his late mother would have thought of his MTV awards show behavior. The segment crackled with energy -- enough to make you forget most of the sins that preceded it. And there were sins to try and foget.
And while there were sins to forgive and forget, here's is the bottom line: You would have to work on it not to have a decent hour of TV with Seinfeld, Oprah, West, Rihanna and Jay-Z -- especially with West being at the very center of pop consciousness in the wake of his incredibly rude and even cruel actions toward Swift.
But frontloaded to high heaven or not, it was still a solid premiere.
Now, that bad news: None of the standard building blocks of the show seemed that impressive on their own -- so that when you tried to imagine the show without an overload of starpower and star-drama, it didn't seem that exciting.
The videos used after the opening monologue were uninspired. One featuring Leno going to a "Cheaters" reality show to see if bandleader Kevin Eubanks was "cheating" on him was lame to the point of being offensive. And for an opening night, Leno's monologue was nothing to get excited about. And maybe it's just 50 years of looking at TV couches, but I hate the two blue chairs in which Leno and his guest sit. Even Seinfeld seemed like he couldn't get comfortable.
The funniest comedy bit involved some clever editing of Steve Kroft's interview with President Barack Obama on "60 Minutes" Sunday so that it looked like Leno was the one doing the interviewing. The president's remarks were sliced and diced so that he seemed to be answering silly questions from Leno -- like the beer commercials with former football coaches. Hey, I'm just saying "clever" by the sinking standards of prime-time network TV these days, OK?
All of which begs the question of what Leno's show will look and feel like when he starts booking lower level guests and there are days when there is not much news to play off.
Leno's new show won't be as hot as it was Monday night, that's for sure. But then, performers like West don't make major fools of themselves on global TV every night -- and then come on your show 24 hours later looking dazed and confused and desperately seeming to seek forgiveness.