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An energized Leno took the stage at the critics press tour in Pasadena along with network late-night head Rick Ludwin and dropped several revelations about the new program.
“The Jay Leno Show” will have a fast opening sequence, about 10 seconds, before launching into the host’s monologue. There will be one celebrity guest, perhaps two at most. Musical segments will sometimes feature multiple acts performing together — like on the Grammys when famous artists are teamed together. Leno’s signature comedy bits like Jay Walking and newspaper headlines will be saved for the end of the show, where Leno will tell viewers to stay tuned for the local news (this is the only part of the show where Leno might have a desk). NBC will not air any commercials between after Leno’s show and is urging local affiliates to do the same.
“When the comedy segment is over, it will literally end the show,” Ludwin said. “We’re giving [affiliates] the hottest hot hand off you can have.”
Leno also previewed some segments, such as the advertiser-friendly “Green Car Challenge,” where celebrities race against each other in alternative fuel vehicles. NBC has built a race track next to the studio where guests can compete against each other.
“You can see who is faster, Shaquille O’Neal or Cameron Diaz,” Leno said.
Other segments will feature comedian correspondents doing taped segments, a bit like on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” (though Leno rejected that comparison). D.L Hughley will report on politics from Washington, for instance, and “Hangover” actress Rachel Harris has been tapped as well.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will also have a regular bit on the show — “Stories Not Good Enough For Nightly News.”
Leno says he’s lost about 10-12 pounds running four miles every morning in training for his new show and says he had grown “complacent” while hosting “Tonight Show.”
He said that contrary to some media reports, he wasn’t tempted to go to ABC when his contract was up, though acknowledged having mixed feeling about NBC.
“When you change networks, [people think] you’re greedy, that you wanted more money,” he said. “There are things I like about the network and there are things I don’t. But much like a marriage you work it out … there’s only so much pie you can eat. There was no desire to go to ABC and go against Conan [O’Brien]… because that’s bitterness … bitterness kills creativity, it kills everything. You put your head down and move forward.”
Asked about the pressure of having to “save NBC” with his new program, Leno shrugged.
“Screw the network,” he said.
Regarding O’Brien, however, Leno said the two have firmly remained friends, though he expects they will have a healthy rivalry this fall.
“There was never any tension between Conan and I,” he said. “Will we fight like cats and dogs to get the guest? Yes … but that doesn’t mean you don’t like each other. It’s a game. You tease and trash talk, that’s the fun part.”
Ludwin also admitted that it was “premature” to declare O’Brien “The New King of Late Night” after his first week on the air.
“I think it was premature,” Ludwin said. “We were very proud of the show…there were those who thought that Conan would not be broad-based enough … he far exceeded our expectations.”
Though NBC executives otherwise ducked questions about ratings expectations for the fall, Leno was pretty specific. He said he expects to beat scripted programs when they’re in repeats — if not in originals.
“Do I expect to beat ‘CSI: Miami’?” he asked. “No. Do I expect to beat them in repeats? Yeah. I don’t expect to get them on the straights but catch them in the corners.”
Leno passionately protested the idea that his new 10 p.m. show is taking opportunities away from scripted programming talents.
“I think you have more [dramas] than ever now — USA Network, cable, all these shows,” he said “There are places to go now to get that. So I don’t see that as the problem. NBC tried scripted programming at 10 p.m. The other thing that annoys me — we use writers. Our writers are in the top 5% of the highest-paid writers in the Guild.”
Leno disagreed with an idea George Lopez presented earlier at press tour while promoting his upcoming TBS late-night talk show, that a show’s format should be flexible enough to open with a musical guest, such as U2.
“What a big musical guest gets you is a great studio audience, you wouldn’t necessarily have a great television audience.” Leno said. “If I want to see U2, I can go to VH1, or go to YouTube.”
A critic, impressed by Leno’s fielding of the questions, noted he seems much more confident now than his previous TCA appearances.
“I’m rich now,” Leno said.
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