What Is Behind Kevin Eubanks' Split From Jay Leno?
By Denise Warner Posted Feb 17th 2010 10:00AM
Eubanks has been with Leno since 1992 and has led the band -- first 'The Tonight Show' band and then the Primetime Band when Jay moved to the short-lived 10 PM show -- since 1995.
Although the jazz guitarist plans to return with Leno to 'The Tonight Show' on March 1, he ultimately wants to leave the series. "Kevin has expressed interest in pursuing personal touring and recording opportunities," an NBC source told Inside TV.
We don't really believe this. In his wishes, Eubanks sounds like a politician -- he needs "a change," so he's moving on. But like a politician, in most matters, Eubanks must have an ulterior motive.
When Conan O'Brien took over 'The Tonight Show' in 2009, Jay Leno moved to primetime with 'The Jay Leno Show.' But bad ratings from both O'Brien and Leno lead NBC to cancel Jay's show and announce they were moving Leno back to 11:35, pushing Conan's 'Tonight' to 12:05 AM.
Unhappy with the turn of events, O'Brien negotiated a deal to exit the network, lambasting Leno along the way. "And I just want to say to the kids out there watching -- you can do anything you want in life, unless Jay Leno wants to do it too," Conan said during one of his last monologues.
Everyone turned on Leno -- from critics to his peers alike, blaming the funnyman for ousting O'Brien, even though NBC pulled the strings. Perhaps Eubanks doesn't want to be associated with Jay now that he is a television pariah.
Kevin may want to stay away from Leno, since he looks like the bad guy who left poor, defenseless Coco out of a job. Perhaps the bandleader fears a waning audience and ultimate cancellation, leaving him looking for work. This way, he goes out on his own terms.
Max Weinberg, O'Brien's bandleader, often tours with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band and has arranged to work both jobs. Even when Weinberg uprooted to the West Coast, his schedule was organized so that he could make as many dates as possible -- with his son taking over on drums for Springsteen when he couldn't.
If Eubanks' only goal was to tour and record, couldn't a similar arrangement be made if he wanted to stick with Jay? In a word? Yes.
Furthermore, the musician has put out 12 albums since 1992, all while presumably being employed with Leno. Eubanks has also appeared on other TV shows and gone on tour during his 'Tonight Show' tenure. Therefore, we must assume he wants out because he no longer wants to be the sidekick to the "evil" Leno -- not simply to pursue other opportunities.
Eubanks probably no longer wants to be known as "the guy with the guitar who laughs at everything," as he was dubbed by David Letterman during the recent late night struggle. Maybe he's just sick of being lumped in with Leno.
And what will Jay do next? It seems that no one would want to be associated with Leno's bad karma, which could leave him without a bandleader. (And without anyone to laugh at his sometimes stale monologues -- as Kevin could always be counted on to do.)
Of course, Leno could always steal The Roots from Jimmy Fallon. Problem solved.
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