Leno's Obama Legacy

The president's planned "Tonight Show" appearance Tuesday underscores his special relationship with the outgoing host.

By Jere Hester
|  Tuesday, Aug 6, 2013  |  Updated 11:58 AM EDT
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Michelle Obama Style Guide

AP

President Obama and Jay Leno are set for their sixth "Tonight Show" meeting Tuesday.

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President Obama's scheduled appearance Tuesday on "The Tonight Show" will mark his sixth visit to the program, his fourth as president and his first without having to worry about running for office again.

For Leno, the presidential guest likely marks the final leg of his groundbreaking TV journey with Obama – and the unofficial start of a victory lap of sorts as he prepares to leave "Tonight," presumably for good.

Tuesday's show offers a possible last chance to watch the easygoing, if symbiotic relationship between a canny show business survivor and a Hollywood-friendly politician who has made more late night entertainment show appearances than any sitting president.

Obama, who initially sat across from Leno as a freshman U.S. senator in 2006, became the first working Oval Office occupant to visit “Tonight" two years later, less than two months into his first term. His choice signified a major nod to Leno and “Tonight” after a presidential campaign in which Obama also spent couch time with David Letterman and Jon Stewart, among others. 

During a presidency in which he’s been criticized by some for doing too many entertainment program gigs – including “slow jamming” the news with “Tonight Show” host-in-waiting, Jimmy Fallon – Obama’s proven most loyal to, and at ease with, Leno. The two enjoy an affable chemistry, and their meetings offer both an opportunity to switch roles.
 
Obama gets to crack wise: He memorably likened the 2012 campaign GOP debates to “Survivor” ("I’m going to wait until everybody is voted off the island") and joked that his feud with Donald Trump dates back to their childhood – in Kenya ("We had constant run-ins on the soccer field," the president quipped. "He wasn't very good and resented it.”). Leno gets to show some rare seriousness ("Mr. president, I must say, this has been one of the best nights of my life," he told Obama after the president’s first “Tonight” stint.).
 
Leno, no doubt, realizes that Obama’s Burbank visits are an important part of his legacy, giving him a distinction that eluded even Johnny Carson. Like Carson, Leno is good at putting guests at ease, meaning we can expect some more relaxed and funny moments Tuesday – if not many hard-hitting questions about what Obama wants to talk about: jobs and the economy.

As Obama and Leno, both, in a sense, in their second administrations, prepare for their potentially last meeting, check out a couple of clips from past interviews:

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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