Jay Leno to roll out in style

New stage will be large enough to accommodate cars

Jay Leno's new show will come from a soundstage specially fitted to accommodate his passion: expensive cars.

The host, in fact, intends on driving some of his prized possessions onstage some nights.

The gambit is one reason NBC is using a larger venue than Leno has been accustomed to. Workers are busy customizing the soundstage once used by "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and the Disney Channel sitcom "Sonny With a Chance," both of which have moved out. Leno's 10 p.m. show will be taped on the NBC lot in Burbank on Stage 11, which is even larger than the 17,000 square-foot garage that houses Leno's car collection. The largest on the lot, Stage 11 is near Leno's former "Tonight Show" home at Stage 3, which is about 5,000 square feet smaller.

While Leno's plan to roll onstage in an expensive car could be viewed as an unnecessary display of opulence in the midst of a recession, he might be using his car collection as a Trojan horse to position his show as the place to advertise automobiles. Maybe he'll drive his 1906 Stanley Steamer onstage one night and the latest offering from Ford the next in a bit of high-octane product placement.

A similar -- sort of -- strategy worked decades ago for NBC and Chevrolet with "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show." In the 1950s, Shore strolled onstage and sang, "See the USA in your Chevrolet" in front of a giant photo of a Chevy.

When it comes to cars, no other current celeb has the credibility Leno has -- not even Oprah Winfrey, who gave away 276 Pontiacs to audience members five years ago in arguably the most famous product-placement ploy in TV history.

"It's a natural because Leno is such a car freak; it's one thing people know and like about him," said Barbara Lippert, ad critic for Adweek Media. "Products incorporated into a show go back a long way, and Leno is an old-fashioned guy. If that strategy takes off again, he's the one to do it, and no one would consider him a sellout."