Jay Leno returns to TV to regain late-night crown

Sun Feb 28, 2010 1:56pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jay Leno returns to "The Tonight Show" on Monday, and so does his desk -- a sign that struggling network NBC wants its flagship late-night TV program to return to normal after Conan O'Brien failed as its host.

More than a month after O'Brien left "The Tonight Show" in a bitter breakup with NBC and three weeks after Leno signed off from the network's ill-fated "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m., Leno slips back into his old seat as "The Tonight Show" host.

The question is: Will viewers, who crowned him the king of late-night TV for 15 years in that coveted role, rejoin him?

In what is expected to be largely the same tried and tested formula of celebrity chat, monologue, odd headlines and musical interludes, Leno's opening week is packed with a stellar line-up including Winter Olympics champions Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White, flamboyant "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert, footballer Brett Favre and politician Sarah Palin.

Perhaps more important, or symbolic, is that he is bringing back the office desk he ditched for more casual arm chairs in a much-talked about change of style on "The Jay Leno Show".

"They have to go back to the formula that was working, and they have to hope they get the viewers back," said Marc Berman, senior TV writer with Mediaweek.

NBC axed "The Jay Leno Show" earlier this year because of complaints from local affiliates who said its poor ratings were providing a weak lead into their late news programs.

His genial image took a hit in the bitter reshuffle that ended in January with Conan O'Brien's $45 million exit from the coveted "Tonight Show" hosting job after just seven months.   Continued...