If "exhaustion" made Jay Leno miss a show now, what will he do this fall at 10 p.m.?
Forget about starring in TV's highest-rated late-night show four nights a week: He also does tons of stand-up comedy gigs on the weekends, writes columns for Popular Mechanics and London's Sunday Times newspaper and holds down a weekly Sunday show at a Los Angeles supper club.
But now, Leno has hinted there's a chink in his armor, telling People magazine, of all places, that "exhaustion" forced him to take a sick day for the first time in his 17-year history of hosting the Tonight Show.
Which leads to a natural question: If Leno's exhausted just keeping up with his old gigs, what happens when he's got to take on a whole new world of work -- propping up NBC's 10 p.m. weeknights this fall?
The first rumor about Leno was that he had food poisoning, supposedly leaked by friends and reported by his own network. When Leno returned to TV last Monday, he admitted having a 103-degree fever, saying a nurse at NBC insisted he go to the hospital.
Now, he's chalking the whole thing up to exhaustion, an explanation Hollywood often uses to explain away more serious maladies.
No doubt, that's the reason why NBC never used the "e" word to describe Leno's health issue when it went down; wouldn't do to admit TV's most dependable workhorse was showing signs of wear weeks before the early ad buying season starts in mid May.
For decades, Leno has joked about wanting to die at his desk and those who know him well say he is almost pathologically focused on developing material for all his outlets (where his wife Mavis fits in, has always been an interesting question).
He's also recently developed special comedy shows for laid-off workers in Detroit and Wilmington, Ohio, and is expected to shmooze advertisers at a special comedy show announcing NBC's fall schedule May 19 in New York City.
I have no idea whether Leno has a more serious health problem than he or NBC is letting on. But rival David Letterman learned the hard way -- via a heart operation -- that even the hardiest show biz workhorses need to give themselves a little breathing room if they want to last.
With NBC's late-night transition expected to last all year, Leno better learn to pace himself. Even the strongest iron breaks if you can put enough pressure to it.