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TCA press tour: Jay Leno says his new show 'not here to save' NBC

August 5, 2009 |  8:40 pm

So, the pressure is really on for Jay Leno, right? His new 10 p.m. talk show debuts in a little over a month, and if it goes down the drain it could take NBC's fading hopes of a prime time revival along with it. The poor guy must be sweating.

Well, um, not so much.

"The network's on its own," Leno told reporters Wednesday at the TV press tour in Pasadena, using a tone that seemed no more than half in jest. "Screw them! I'm not here to save them.

"If we go down in flames, we'll be laughing on the way down," he added.

If network executives' tense confrontation with journalists earlier in the day was any indication, Leno's bosses do not seem to share his devil-may-care view of "The Jay Leno Show," which premieres Sept. 14. But for the host himself -- who handed over the reins of "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien last spring -- prepping for the new gig has proved restorative. He's been running four miles a day and says he's lost at least 10 pounds since leaving "Tonight" in May.

What brought about this exalted state of confidence, this stark difference from the sweaty, shifty kid who replaced Johnny Carson 17 years ago? "I'm rich now," he replied, in one of the session's biggest laugh-getters. More seriously, he conceded that he'd left "Tonight" "in a bit of a rut."

He revealed a number of details about the new show. There will be only one guest, perhaps two, per night, Leno said, and he will generally not use a desk. "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams -- a closet comedian who won plaudits as a "Saturday Night Live" host -- will frequently pop up, and a team of correspondents, including comics D.L. Hughley and Mikey Day, will provide remote pieces. One idea for a recurring comedy bit includes a "green car challenge," in which celebrities would race electric or hybrid cars. Tom Cruise has already asked if he could do some practice runs before competing, Leno said. (The host told him practice runs are forbidden.) NBC is also encouraging affiliates to not run any commercials between the end of Leno's show and the late local news, in hopes of providing as many viewers as possible for Conan's "Tonight" at 11:35 p.m. 

"I want to keep the show fast-paced, I think that's key," Leno said. His inspiration comes from the comics he grew up on, such as Carson, Jack Benny and Bill Cosby. "There will hopefully be something for everybody."

He dismissed any notion of tension between O'Brien and himself, saying that the shows will have a friendly competition for guest bookings that will ultimately make both shows better. And he brushed off the notion that by occupying the 10 p.m. slot usually reserved for dramas, his new show would make it tougher for scripted shows to find a home.

"NBC tried scripted shows at 10 p.m.," he said. "I thought they were okay. For some reason, they didn't catch on."

Does that mean his show will do any better? Well, if the subtext of Leno's appearance was to manage expectations, he probably succeeded at that goal far better than his bosses did.

He told reporters he doesn't expect to beat "CSI: Miami," because "that's the most popular show in the world.

"But will we catch them in reruns? Yeah."

-- Scott Collins