Leno has buzz; will viewers respond?

By Lynn Elber

LOS ANGELES — Jay Leno has shed more than a dozen pounds and the weighty traditions of the “Tonight Show” that would tie his prime-time future to his late-night past.

The desk that’s central to any talk show will go mostly unused. There will also be fewer stars hawking their latest movies, TV shows and albums, and instead more comedy when NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show” debuts at 10 p.m. Monday.

But can the newly trim, 59-year-old Leno bring major change to American television with a one-hour show five nights a week?

“I do think this is the kind of bold move that the networks need to make if they’re going to hold onto any part of their primacy in the TV world,” says Tim Brooks, author of “The Complete Directory to Prime-time Network and Cable TV Shows.”

A prime-time show airing each weeknight is unique in U.S. television and has the potential to be copied if it’s a success. “When something new comes along on TV, it proliferates all over the schedule,” Brooks says.

Leno, at least publicly, won’t play along. He dismissed as “hilarious” the notion that he can single-handedly reverse the shrinking fortunes of broadcast television as viewers defect to cable and other distractions.

He also rejects the idea that he’s poised to be an innovator, although the car buff is proud of his new Burbank set. With artwork of his vintage cars as decoration, it displays Leno’s passion for automobiles. It even has a compact race track outside so celebrities can race environmentally friendly cars.

“Meat and potatoes. Good food at sensible prices,” he says of the new show. “That’s all it really is. It’s not some groundbreaking thing. It’s just a comedy show.”

But it is, crucially, also a budget-conscious show. Leno is taking over real estate that would have belonged to a quintet of one-hour dramas that typically cost around $3 million per episode.

The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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