Jay Leno's return to prime-time - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Jay Leno's return to prime-time

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ADVISORY: You can watch "The Jay Leno Show" Monday night on KHQ at 10 p.m. immediately followed by KHQ Local News 11 @ 11.

BURBANK, Calif. - When Jay Leno debuts his new prime-time show Monday, he'll have a fresh new set, fresh material and fresh controversy in the form of Kanye West, one of the show's first guests.

On Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards, West grabbed the microphone from 19-year-old singer Taylor Swift, who had just won for 'Best Video by a Female Artist' and told the audience the award should have gone to Beyonce.

Jay will have some of Hollywood's biggest names to help him this week, including Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Cruise.

Despite the scarcity of tickets for his debut shows a crowd of die-hard Leno fans began camping out in the wee hours for a chance to usher in a new era of Jay.

Other guests on tap for this week include Michael Moore, Eric Clapton and Halle Berry.

Drew Barrymore will be the first guest to drive around Jay's brand new racetrack, which is now part of his set.

Who's taking the bigger risk with the move to prime-time, Jay or NBC?

If Jay Leno feels any pressure heading into his new show Monday, it pales in comparison to when he took over the Tonight Show.

"Following Johnny Carson, you stink, you suck, we hope you die, for the first year," Leno recalled. "There's no more worse pressure than that."

"The Jay Leno Show" will be the first ever nightly hour of prime time comedy on a major network.

"What Jay did 17 years ago was daunting, because he was following a legend," said  Bill Carter, national media reporter for the New York Times. "Here, he's stepping into the unknown."

Carter wrote a best selling book about the late night talk show battles, "The Late Shift." He says there's more pressure on NBC than Leno.

"If this is a cratering failure, they'll really behind the 8 ball for quite a while," he
cautioned. "It really is a gigantic risk for them."

NBC is confident.

"I think it's a smart risk," said Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television
Entertainment.

He says Leno at ten makes sense as a comedy alternative that counter programs
the other networks and technology.

"We really think we have an opportunity to attract some people back who would go
to their DVRs or would go to cable at ten o'clock," Gaspin offered.

Money's also a factor. Leno's show will cost much less than dramas that have
largely struggled to attract viewers.

"Jay says he can do 5 episodes for the cost of one helicopter explosion on a drama," said Carter, "and he's about right."

Saving money won't matter without an audience and Leno's confident he'll have one.

"I don't expect to beat shows like CSI Miami and shows like that in the premiere week, but they're only on 22 weeks a year. We're on 46 weeks a year with original programming, so
we'll see what happens."

The competition may be waiting for Leno to fail, but Carter points out the comedian's been the
underdog before.

"He was underestimated before he got the Tonight Show, he was underestimated when he went against  David Letterman, other people in the comedy business underestimated him, and all he did was win."

In this case, Leno may not even have to win to be victorious.

"Before, I was following an icon," Leno said. "Now I'm just following shows that were in fourth place."

"If this show succeeds," Carter said. "Everyone else in television is going to have to try it, because it will save NBC so much money, it will transform the economics of prime time."

Maybe, it will make laughter contagious.

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