For Jay Leno, the last few months have been like Dorothy's visit to Oz, at least so he envisaged on Monday night as he returned as host of NBC's The Tonight Show . "There's no place like home. There's no place like home," Leno, photographed in grainy black-and-white, remarked as he lay in bed surrounded by some of the show's regulars. But there were otherwise few references to the recent late-night fiasco, which saw Conan O'Brien take over as host of the show while Leno emceed a 10 00 p.m. nightly variety hour that failed. Writing on Time magazine's website, TV critic James Poniewozik commented, "To be fair, Leno and NBC have a delicate task with the relaunch of the Tonight Show making a premiere event of something that viewers were watching less than a year ago, without too many awkward reminders of what came between." At one point, Leno noted that Sarah Palin, who has "never been on a late-night show," would be appearing on Tuesday night. In fact, she had made an appearance -- albeit a brief one, mocking William Shatner's autobiography -- during O'Brien's stint as host (and had also appeared on Saturday Night Live ). But NBC has gone to great lengths to erase that part of the show's history -- removing clips of the Conan-hosted Tonight from its own website and from its partly-owned Hulu.com. Leno's return was hyped throughout the Winter Olympics, and NBC-owned stations treated it as a major event on their 11 00 p.m. newscasts Monday night. Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Jonathan Storm noted that "some blond" who was identified as the local station's "national correspondent" did a live remote featuring a clip from the show. "Now there's a real commitment to news," Storm razzed. But in a Los Angeles Times review of the show, Mary McNamara observed "It was quintessential Leno, man of the people, and after the new desk was unveiled, it did seem as if the last seven months were, if not a dream, then a sort of parallel universe, similar to this season's Lost. " And Hank Stuever concluded in the Washington Post "In the end, Leno is talented in the most mediocre of ways, and this gives viewers great comfort. His big win here is a win for the middle of the road."

02/03/2010