Jay Leno Essay

Not surprisingly, money spent to treat diabetes has skyrocketed, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that diabetes accounted for $2.6 billion in health care costs in 1969. Today's number is an unbelievable $100 billion a year.

Shouldn't we know better than to eat two meals a day in fast-food restaurants? That's one argument. But where, exactly, are consumers -- particularly teenagers -- supposed to find alternatives? Drive down any thoroughfare in America, and I guarantee you'll see one of our country's more than 13,000 McDonald's restaurants. Now, drive back up the block and try to find someplace to buy a grapefruit.

Complicating the lack of alternatives is the lack of information about what, exactly, we're consuming. There are no calorie information charts on fast-food packaging, the way there are on grocery items. Advertisements don't carry warning labels the way tobacco ads do. Prepared foods aren't covered under Food and Drug Administration labeling laws. Some fast-food purveyors will provide calorie information on request, but even that can be hard to understand.

For example, one company's Web site lists its chicken salad as containing 150 calories; the almonds and noodles that come with it (an additional 190 calories) are listed separately. Add a serving of the 280-calorie dressing, and you've got a healthy lunch alternative that comes in at 620 calories. But that's not all. Read the small print on the back of the dressing packet and you'll realize it actually contains 2.5 servings. If you pour what you've been served, you're suddenly up around 1,040 calories, which is half of the government's recommended daily calorie intake. And that doesn't take into account that 450-calorie super-size Coke.

Make fun if you will of these kids launching lawsuits against the fast-food industry, but don't be surprised if you're the next plaintiff. As with the tobacco industry, it may be only a matter of time before state governments begin to see a direct line between the $1 billion that McDonald's and Burger King spend each year on advertising and their own swelling health care costs.

And I'd say the industry is vulnerable. Fast-food companies are marketing to children a product with proven health hazards and no warning labels. They would do well to protect themselves, and their customers, by providing the nutrition information people need to make informed choices about their products. Without such warnings, we'll see more sick, obese children and more angry, litigious parents. I say, let the deep-fried chips fall where they may.

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Many professional comics consider Jay Leno one of the best stand-up comedians of his generation. In his prime, Leno was a brilliant craftsman with sharp material, impeccable delivery, fantastic timing and an affable everyman persona. Even future enemy David Letterman had enormous respect for him as a stand-up comic in the beginning.

So why has seemingly the sum of the comedy world turned on Leno with shocking viciousness? Why has he raced past the reviled likes of Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia on the list of popular stand-ups comedians love to hate? What is behind the widespread sense that Leno sold his soul when he took over “The Tonight Show”? Why do Leno’s peers in the comedy world, like Howard Stern, view him as a stand-up version of scheming “What Makes Sammy Run?” anti-hero Sammy Glick, a sentient ball of runaway ambition willing to destroy anyone who gets in his way?

In this current late-night melodrama Conan O’Brien, a beloved figure among comedy geeks for his generosity towards comedians, eagerness to explore uncharted comic terrain and deep respect for the art, craft and history of comedy, has emerged as the wronged party and Leno as the villain.

Late night television quickly turned into “Everybody Hates Jay.” The response was quick, vitriolic and widespread. In an audacious move, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel donned a gray wig, affixed putty to his chin and performed an entire episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in the guise of Leno.

In his finest hour, Kimmel nailed everything that people hate about Leno: the cheap, pandering jokes, the maddening way Leno’s whole head shakes with delight when he’s particularly amused by one of his quips and the nauseatingly sycophantic banter between Leno and band leader/sidekick Kevin Eubanks.

Kimmel followed this up by going on “The Jay Leno Show” as a guest on its “10@10″ segment and making pointed remarks about Leno’s treatment of O’Brien. “Conan and I have children,” said Kimmel. “All you have to take care of is cars. We have lives to lead here. You’ve got $800 million for God’s sake. Leave our shows alone.”  Leno had achieved the seemingly impossible: he single-handedly made a late-night also-ran like Kimmel seem hip, edgy, relevant and borderline dangerous.

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