LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Talk show host Jay Leno on Wednesday promised his new show would have more comedy, fewer celebrities promoting new ventures and guests would get out of their seats when the program hits the air in its new 10 pm hour in September.
Leno said he was planning a regular comedy segment with NBC news anchor Brian Williams and was building a “green car” race track outside his new studio where celebrities, possibly including Tom Cruise, will power round the circuit in a high performance electric car challenge.
Old favorites from Leno’s 17-year stint on “The Tonight Show” like the opening comedy monologue will remain, but his familiar desk is being jettisoned and popular segments like “Jaywalking,” in which he interviews people on sidewalks, will move to the latter half of “The Jay Leno Show.”
“There will be something for everyone. Hopefully it will play across the board,” Leno told television critics at a gathering to showcase upcoming programs. “It won’t be talk show and it won’t be a variety show with wigs and hats on.”
Leno, who ended his run on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in May as the late-night ratings king, said there would be less music and likely just one or two guests instead of three. He declined to reveal who would be among the first stars on his show.
The decision by struggling NBC to broadcast “The Jay Leno Show” at 10 pm five nights a week is being carefully watched as the television industry seeks to cut costs and retain audiences who have deserted TV sets in droves for video-games, social networking sites and other forms of entertainment.
But NBC executives said they had no ratings target by which to measure its success and said research had shown audiences were hungry for comedy at 10 pm as an alternative to scripted dramas on rival networks at that hour.
“It is a marathon. (Success) is not going to be determined in the first five days of the show,” said Angela Bromstad, NBC’s primetime entertainment chief.
Leno himself laughed off the idea that he was under pressure to “save” NBC, which is lagging behind the other leading networks CBS, Fox and ABC in the ratings.
“I am not here to save the network! Screw the network!,” he said. “I am excited about it. I think it will be a lot of fun. If we go down in flames, we will be laughing on the way down, believe me.”
Leno said he planned to introduce new comedians on the show, which premieres on September 14. Stand-up comic D.L. Hughley will be a regular guest correspondent on politics, and Leno said he was working with Williams on a comic segment about news items that hadn’t made the news.
Leno acknowledged he had become a little complacent after so many years on “The Tonight Show” and was now running 4 miles a day and lost about 12 pounds to get fit for his new venture.
Both Leno and NBC executives dismissed concern that he and his “Tonight Show” successor Conan O’Brien would be fighting over celebrity guest bookings, saying they would work out any potential conflicts in a friendly manner.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte