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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jay Leno has shrugged off low ratings for his new prime-time nightly TV talk show, saying NBC is making money with his switch from late night to earlier and he enjoys being an underdog in the race to get viewers.
In an interview with Broadcasting and Cable magazine released on Monday, the beleaguered host of "The Jay Leno Show" said he was finding his new 10 p.m. time slot "difficult but interesting" and said that NBC was standing behind him.
"The Jay Leno Show" -- a move by struggling NBC to cut costs by airing Leno's less-costly comedy hour at a time usually reserved for expensive scripted dramas -- is getting about 5 million viewers an episode, or less than half the audience for dramas on rivals CBS and ABC at the same time.
"I enjoy being the underdog," Leno said. "I'm told that if we can keep a 1.5 (rating), they (NBC) make $300 million a year; this is what they say. So we're a little above the 1.5, we're doing OK." Rating points help measure viewership.
General Electric Co's NBC did not return calls for comment.
Asked if he regretted leaving the 11:30 p.m. time he held for 17 years, Leno said: "Yeah sure. I would have preferred that. I think it's too soon to say whether I regret anything or not...Do I enjoy the battle? Yes, I get a certain amount of satisfaction from pounding my head against the wall."
Leno said he took 95 percent of the blame for negative media coverage of his new venture, saying he was constantly "tweaking" the show.
He expected audiences to pick up when other networks start running repeats of their dramas in the summer and over the holiday period.
"Something makes me think we might be OK here for a while," he said. "I'm not having a bad time at 10 o'clock now. I look at this job, and now I'm faced with a challenge I find difficult but interesting."
NBC is currently bottom in overall audience terms of the four major U.S. TV networks but is not losing viewers so far in the 2009-10 season compared to the same time a year ago.
ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co and CBS is owned by CBS Corp.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte