Jay Leno ready to 'try something new'

Format of 10 p.m. show yet to be worked out

Jay Leno says his new 10 p.m. show will have a monologue and other familiar pieces but it won't be "The Tonight Show" an hour and a half earlier.

"It won't be necessarily comedy, comedy, first guest, second guest, music," Leno told reporters about the format of his new five-nights-a-week program.

After a night of frenzied rumors and reporting about how NBC had finally found a way to keep its veteran late-night ratings king, NBC co-chiefs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff appeared at a Burbank news conference with a self-effacing Leno to confirm that the show was a go.

"This accomplished two goals for NBC," Graboff said. "Changing how broadcast television works and keeping Jay Leno in the family

Leno said that NBC Uni chief Jeff Zucker had been calling regularly about ways to keep him in the NBC family, including the possibility of a show five nights a week beginning at 8 p.m. But Leno finally bit at the chance to do a 10 p.m. comedy and talk program, which he acknowledged probably wouldn't do as well as the scripted competition on the other networks.

"Do we think that we are going to beat 'CSI?' " Leno asked.

Leno said he asked NBC to conduct research before the decision to determine if the model would work. "You don't want to go some place where you're not wanted," Leno said. At the same time, Leno said he's been anecdotally told for years that fans would like to see his show earlier.

"The one thing people say to me is 'I wish it were on earlier,' " Leno said.

After the conference, Graboff added that even if Leno's new show gets the same rating as "The Tonight Show," it will still be a profitable enterprise for NBC.

"The (expectation) for ratings is much lower than for a scripted program, it's a joinable-in-progress and more DVR-proof," Graboff said. "If it does the same as the 'Tonight Show,' we're fine."

Late-night shows have a higher percentage of their total viewership occurring live and a lower percentage that's time-shifted in comparison to primetime scripted fare, though its not clear that trend would occur to the same degree if Leno airs at an earlier hour. The reduced cost of having Leno instead of scripted programming should be considerable, however.

"We can do four five of these shows for the cost of one 10 p.m. drama," Graboff said.

Silverman emphasized that the move will not result in a cutback in development. In fact, Silverman said he will put more scripted programming on Friday and Sunday nights as a result of filling 10 p.m. with Leno.



"We're going to be able to program Friday more aggressively, we're going to have more scripted on Sunday, we're going to about to open up more nights," Silverman said. "This is going to strengthen our entire primetime lineup."

Leno said that he was comfortable staying with NBC, where he said he has the best producer in the business, Debbie Vickers, and is comfortable with the team. But he also said it was nice to know that there was interest from other networks if he couldn't work out a deal with NBC. Leno's stay at "The Tonight Show" is coming to an end next year, when he will be replaced by Conan O'Brien.

"After 17 years of 'Tonight,' I'm ready to try something new," Leno said. "There were reports that I was going to go to ABC. But they were started by a disgruntled employee: Me. ... When you go someplace else it takes you six months to get going, plus you have your old troops shooting you in the back on your way out. I tend to leave the dance with the person I came in with."

Pressed for thoughts about the business implications of the move, Leno said such matters do not concern him. "What I like to do is write jokes, tell jokes and get checks," he said. "I enjoy making love, I don't need to be a gynecologist."

When asked if his move pose a problem for future "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien, having to compete for guests with a new primetime show, Leno replied, "no more than it is now ... it's less of a problem then if you're at two competing networks."

The new Leno program -- tentatively called "The Jay Leno Show" -- will launch next fall and will run 46 or 48 weeks a year. Graboff said NBC will likely premiere the show a couple weeks before the traditional premiere week to get a head start on the hour.

On the sidelines of the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference on Tuesday, Walt Disney CFO Tom Staggs said NBC locking up Leno was a smart move that his company may have made as well.

"He wasn't able to talk to anybody else" under his contract, Staggs said when asked about ABC's interest in Leno. "We weren't in this game."

On a content panel at the same conference, Salil Mehta, president of business operations, strategy and development at NBC Universal, also referenced the Leno deal.

"It reflects the fact that we're trying to rightsize" our distribution businesses, he said.

James Hibberd reported from Los Angeles; Paul J. Gough reported from New York. Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.
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