Friday, May 27, 2011

The good news: Leno finally talks motorcycle racing on Tonight Show. The bad news: Leno's guest is Paris Hilton

Last summer, some friends at Yamaha asked me to pitch Jay Leno on the idea of Valentino Rossi as a guest for The Tonight Show. I've profiled Jay for a few magazines; I know he's a genuine gearhead, not some Hollywood twerp who bought a bike on his publicist's advice, because it would make him seem cool or macho. But, I also know that he's a bike guy, not really a racing guy.

Jay shut me down instantly when I suggested Rossi as a guest. He told me that The Tonight Show's producers knew from experience that racing doesn't hold the interest of mainstream American TV viewers. He cited one bad experience, which I think was Mario Andretti bombing on his show. And, he noted, "There's the accent thing." Apparently, Americans also don't like listening to guys with foreign accents. In fact, he'd learned over the decades that sports, period, didn't fly with Tonight Show viewers. "Maybe, if you can get the Superbowl-winning quarterback on the Monday after the game," Jay told me. "But even that..."
Leno mugs with Yamaha motorcycle division honcho Henio Arcangeli.
In the end, although Jay hosted the Yamaha MotoGP team at his garage, Rossi never showed. (He'd been injured by then, and had a great excuse.) After I'd told Jay it would be a small private party, Yamaha piled on about 150 guests. Jorge Lorenzo was a guest of the show, but not a guest on the show; he sat in the audience. If the camera panned across him during the broadcast, no special notice was taken of the MotoGP World Champion-in-waiting. Yamaha wanted to make Jay their guest at the Laguna Seca MotoGP round, but he had a scheduling conflict. (Jay and few garage employees later attended the Indy round.)

But now, World Championship motorcycle racing will place a guest on The Tonight Show - complete with a (mocked-up) bike appearance. The catch: Jay's guest will be Paris Hilton. Will she say anything intelligent about 'her' 125GP team? I desperately want Jay to ask her, "So Paris, tell us what you think about the upcoming transition from 125 two-strokes to Moto 3..."

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