Trouble just keeps following Jay Leno. Now that his primetime experiment is over with and he is returning to late night as the host of “The Tonight Show” once the Winter Olympics wrap up, he was probably hoping for a smooth transition back behind his old desk. Unfortunately, that may not be the case. There are reports out there that longtime “Tonight Show” bandleader Kevin Eubanks will not be returning to the show. (Keep in mind that the same report cites sources who say that Eubanks will indeed be back, so do with that information what you will.)
While Eubanks has never been the sort of dynamic force that Max Weinberg or Paul Shaffer has been for Conan O’Brien and David Letterman, he still has an easy chemistry with Leno, and any interruption in that chemistry could derail Leno’s delicate re-introduction to the late night fold. The new bandleader would have to be an absolutely perfect fit.
Then again, maybe this is the opportunity for Leno to reinvent himself and evolve a bit. The report that said Eubanks was exiting also says that former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman and current chart-topping country star Darius Rucker is rumored to be Eubanks’ replacement. While that wouldn’t be a terrible decision, it’s a little safe. (Plus, why would Rucker — who has carved out an incredible second career for himself as a country star — want that job?) Here are six suggestions for Eubanks’ replacement (if he is indeed flying the coop).
Honestly, this is the consensus pick in the MTV Newsroom. Lovett can be everything to everyone: He’s a recognizable face, a country outlaw, an accomplished actor and a killer musician. He would be able to lead the band, joke around and — as Max Weinberg has proven — still continue on with his primary music career. It’s a perfect match that would appeal to young and old alike.
This is the other favorite pick in the Newsroom. Folds proved his television chops as a judge on NBC’s a capella contest “The Sing-Off,” and he has a history of being able to play around with cover tunes (his version of the Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” is pretty great, as is his cover of “B—-es Ain’t S—”). He also possesses a dry, acerbic sense of humor that could provide a counterpoint to Leno’s everyman monologues.
Jimmy Fallon broke new ground when he hired the Roots as his house band on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” It infused late night TV with a refreshing blast of hip-hop, and they’ve been an incredible boon for Fallon’s show. Leno could follow that lead and recruit a great hip-hop mind or a skilled DJ. Our vote? Timbaland. His recent work has proven that he not only possesses hip-hop talent but also skills with rock, pop and everything in between. With the one-two punch of “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” NBC late night could be the place where hip-hop lives.
There has never been a female band leader on a major late night show, and if Leno is smart, he should be the one to break that cycle. Hanley, the former frontwoman for ’90s pop-rockers Letters to Cleo, has had an eclectic career since her band split up. She put out a few solo albums, wrote songs and provided the singing voice for Rachael Leigh Cook in the film “Josie and the Pussycats” and toured in Miley Cyrus’ band. She’s been around, she knows the business, and would add an extra spark to Leno’s usual talk show schtick.
“The Tonight Show” is a Los Angeles institution, so why not recruit the guy who is constantly writing songs for movies and who penned “I Love L.A.”? Newman is really just an older version of Folds: A bright, talented, witty, slightly ticked off piano man with a big personality.
He would tap into two big demographics: Tweens and Canadians. Plus, he could teach Leno how to tweet. Make the call, Jay!
What do you think? Who would you like to see as the new band leader on “The Tonight Show”? And does the band leader matter? Leave your thoughts in the comments!