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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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Monday, June 25, 2001

Volume 9, Number 6

When It Comes to California’s Power Problem, NBC Host Is Really In the Dark

Who’s to blame for the power mess in California, greedy power company executives who want to milk every last dollar from helpless consumers, or those single-minded environmentalists who opposed — and still oppose — building more electric power plants? Who’s more deserving of condemnation, those Bush administration officials who resisted anti-free market price caps that wouldn’t create a single kilowatt hour of power, or California state planners who crafted that lunatic regulatory scheme which has been labeled, erroneously, as “deregulation?”

Many of California’s consumers, who have faced rolling blackouts and sharply higher energy prices, are presumably furious with environmentalists and state officials like Governor Gray Davis who have exacerbated the situation. But on June 21, NBC’s The Tonight Show, based in Burbank, California, staged a gimmicky no-lights-on episode that heaped scorn on both President Bush and the power companies and even featured a guest appearance by Governor Davis, who joined host Jay Leno on stage.

“It hasn’t been this dark at NBC since the Today show put that camera in Katie Couric’s colon,” Leno quipped as the audience pointed flashlights towards the stage; those hand-held flashlights were the show’s only lighting source. “I want to assure everybody that this dark show is not some cheap ratings ploy. It’s just that NBC lost so much money on XFL football, we can’t afford to pay the electric bill.”

But the jibes quickly turned against the power industry, as Leno accused the electricity company of wasting energy. “We’re sitting here in the dark, trying to save money. PG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric, they’re our ‘power suppliers,’” the comic informed the audience, making quotation marks in the air as he said the words “power suppliers.”

“I want to show you a live shot of their headquarters. It is closed now, there’s nobody in the building, take a look: Every damn light is on! Every damn light is on!” The screen showed a well-lit building against a dark sky but, since The Tonight Show is taped during the daytime, Leno’s remark was obviously meant more as an acerbic barb than a truthful comment on the power company’s ability to conserve electricity.

To audience cheers, Leno continued to excoriate electricity providers: “The power company officials keep telling us, unless we give them more money, they will keep cutting off our electricity. See, here’s the part I don’t understand,” he offered in mock confusion. “When the power company does it, it’s called a rate hike. When the mob does it, it’s called extortion. Why is that?”

Leno then asked bandleader Kevin Eubanks, “Do you know how many power company executives it takes to screw in a lightbulb in California?” When Eubanks said no, Leno declared, “It doesn’t take any. They’re too busy screwing consumers!”

Leno eventually stopped bashing power companies and started bashing the Bush administration. “Our own governor, Gray Davis, testified yesterday in the Senate about the energy crisis here in California,” he informed the audience. “Of course, he was in Washington, D.C. As all Californians know, the D.C. stands for ‘Don’t Care.’ In fact, even President Bush told our Governor, ‘You know, I’ve been operating in the dark for years, now you can, too.’”

As the audience whooped, Davis himself strode on stage and commended Leno for conserving power by not using the stage lights. Leno asked the Democratic Governor if he had any power-saving tips. “First, I get a really long extension cord, and I plug it into a socket in Texas,” retorted Davis. Advised by former Gore campaign operatives Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, Davis has publicly accused Texas energy companies, which are exporting excess electricity to California, of overcharging consumers. 

Later in the program, Leno advised the audience that, since they couldn’t see, their hearing would be more acute and so he asked that they listen quietly. Moments later, an irritating jackhammer noise began. The host directed the audience to point their flashlights toward an jackhammer-wielding actor impersonating Vice President Dick Cheney. After a few boos from the audience, “Dick Cheney” told Leno, “I’m drilling for oil here in the studio,” then loudly resumed drilling.

“Stop that. Stop,” Leno scolded the phony Vice President. “We’re trying to do a show. You can’t just drill for oil here.”

“Oh, fine,” the fake Cheney growled. “I’ll go down to your dressing room and drill. Stay in the dark, see if I care!”

The heavily-promoted episode was evidently designed more to draw viewers’ attention than it was to save power, although Leno informed the audience that the stage lights normally draw as much power as a typical family home would use in a month. But Leno’s decision to use the NBC spotlight (pardon the pun) to lampoon energy companies and the federal government, while ignoring the damage caused by self-described environmentalists and the California state government, shows that The Tonight Show host is really in the dark when it comes to California’s power crisis.


Rich Noyes



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