Jay Leno's next go-round will mix familiar, ‘fresh'

Hal Boedeker
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

Just what will Jay Leno's new 10 p.m. EST Monday-Friday show look like next fall?

The host and NBC Universal sent contradictory messages in Orlando recently.

"You can look for an even longer monologue," said Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal president and CEO. "Clearly, that has historically been and will continue to be the strength of the show."

But Leno questioned that suggestion. "The monologue is pretty long. It runs almost 14 minutes sometimes," he said. "The nice thing about the monologue, it's never less than 10 minutes, and it's usually no more than 13 or 14."

And the title? "The Jay Leno Show," Zucker said.

"That's not my first choice, but that's OK," Leno said. "My mother is from Scotland, and my mother (went), 'Why do you have your name all over everything?'"

Leno leaves "The Tonight Show" May 29 to make room for Conan O'Brien. Yet Leno said he would take the best elements from "The Tonight Show" for his new series.

"We'll lose the desk," Leno said. "We'll have a little different setup. We'll still interview celebrities, not necessarily three or two. Maybe just one. And then, hopefully, involve the celebrity in comedy bits, something to keep the second half-hour fresh."

The trick, Leno said, will be livening up the second half-hour to hold viewers.

NBC Universal and Leno agree about what's ahead when he takes on new episodes of dramas such as "CSI: Miami."

"We don't expect in any way for Jay's ratings, when he's competing against those original, first-run dramas, to be comparable to those programs in any way. Not even close," Zucker said. "In the aggregate of the 52 weeks - which is how we sell it ... Jay's ratings will be comparable to the competition."

Leno will offer original programs 46 to 48 weeks a year while most scripted dramas produce just 22 to 24 episodes a season.

"We expect the fall will be the most difficult time," Zucker said. "We're not throwing in the towel. We think it will do well."

Leno said he expected to have his backside kicked in the fall. "We pick it up in the Christmas holiday, in the spring, in the summer," Leno said. "At the end of the year, you have a profitable show that when the ratings are all averaged out, hey, you're doing pretty good."

Leno has a multiyear deal with NBC, and any decision about whether the new show is working will come at least after a year, Zucker said.

Leno seemed unfazed by the scrutiny that he'll receive in moving to prime time.

"I don't worry about it," he said. "This is what I do. I have the same friends I had when I was in high school. I'm leaving the talk show with the same wife I came in with. That's fairly rare. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, well, boy, it was a lot of fun. I don't beat myself over it."

He explained his approach. "The key is never become a personality, always try to have material, always try to have something funny," Leno said. "Never assume anybody wants to see you. They want to see you do whatever it is you do, as opposed to just showing up."

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