Leno recaptures old audience, critics underwhelmed

Tue Mar 2, 2010 4:59pm EST
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Talk-show host Jay Leno settled comfortably back behind his desk on NBC's "The Tonight Show," recapturing his old audience but leaving most critics underwhelmed.

Early audience ratings on Tuesday showed that 6.6 million viewers tuned in Monday night to watch Leno quip that it was "good to be home" in the late-night seat he left in May last year, only to unexpectedly regain it after the failure of his prime-time TV talk show.

The "Tonight Show" audience easily beat CBS rival David Letterman's "Late Show" and was more than a million viewers higher than the stalwart fan base, on average, that made Leno the king of late-night TV for 15 years.

But it paled in comparison to the 17.7 million who watched the opening episode of his ill-fated "The Jay Leno Show" at 10 p.m. in September and the 9.2 million who watched Conan O'Brien on his first outing as host of "The Tonight Show" in June.

O'Brien quit "The Tonight Show" in January after a bitter tussle over slipping ratings and NBC's efforts to revamp its prime-time shows in order to move out of fourth place among the four big U.S. networks.

Leno on Monday made only a handful of jokes at his own, and the network's, expense. For instance, he told guest and American Olympic skiing champion Lindsey Vonn, "When it comes to going downhill, nobody's faster. OK, except NBC."

Showbusiness newspaper The Hollywood Reporter said Leno looked "comfortable and comforting, enthusiastic but not too much so, apparently ready to just get back to the job of making middle-of-the-road laughs."

USA Today's Robert Bianco found his comic opening monologue "tired, lame and unfunny," while MTV said the rest of the show was "inoffensive if not entirely revolutionary," noting that Leno's familiar desk was back, albeit in a new model.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Mohammad Zargham)

<p>Host Jay Leno smiles during a panel for his upcoming television series "The Jay Leno Show" at the Television Critics Association Cable summer press tour in Pasadena, California August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>