Leno move shakes up U.S. television

Thu May 28, 2009 4:48pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jay Leno, the popular late-night host of NBC's "The Tonight Show," bows out of his 17-year run on Friday and heads for prime-time television in a major shake-up of U.S. network programing.

Leno's tenure as the wisecracking, five nights-a-week host of America's top-rated late-night talk show has spanned four presidents and produced landmark shows. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on Leno's program in 2003.

But the 59-year-old comedian will need to keep his wits about him when he returns to struggling NBC this fall in an earlier time slot, pitting his stand-up humor and couch of celebrity guests against some of America's most-watched drama series, including the powerful "CSI" crime franchise on CBS.

"It is a courageous thing to take an icon on late night and move him into prime time," said Dick Lippin, CEO of entertainment and marketing group The Lippin Group.

"With Jay Leno, you have a higher probability of success than with other people. The question is, what will Leno have to do in order to make it appointment television at 10 p.m.?"

Leno's move from the 11:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot will make his one-hour "The Jay Leno Show" the first such program to air five nights-a-week in U.S. prime time. The period runs from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and typically draws the highest numbers of viewers, making it a lucrative advertising draw.

Leno has barely begun work on the new show but has said it will be similar to his "Tonight" format of an opening comic monologue, celebrity guests interviews, and popular segments like "Jaywalking" in which he jokes with people on the street.

"ECONOMIC DECISION"   Continued...

<p>Comedian Jay Leno hosts the 30th Carousel of Hope gala in Beverly Hills, California October 25, 2008. The evening benefits the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>