Jay Leno on his naysayers: 'trash talking is a part of the competition'

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Jay Leno brushed aside criticism from competitors who believe his fall primetime show is not only a cynical move by NBC but bad for television. Speaking to a small gathering of reporters in New York on Tuesday, Leno said “I’m a big boy” and he’s not affected by the naysayers who doubt the viability of his nightly primetime show this fall. Earlier on Tuesday, in fact, ABC latenight host Jimmy Kimmel made a joke at Leno’s expense at the network’s upfront presentation to advertisers, saying NBC was so desperate to hold onto Leno that it was willing to “destroy the network” in the process. Leno chuckled when he heard Kimmel’s comments.

“As long as it was funny,” said Leno. “Trash talking is a part of the competition. You do your best. It gives you the impetus to prove them wrong.”

Leno can’t give too many specifics on his new fall show, other than to say it’ll likely average two guests a night and include some sort of standing comedy bit in the second half-hour to encourage viewers to stay tuned for their local 11 p.m. newscast. Leno’s signature Headlines and Jay Walking bits will probably fill Mondays and Tuesdays; he’s not sure about the frequency of musical acts. Mostly, Leno seems juiced by the opportunity to get a jump start on topical jokes. “Before the parade of white guys starts, I’ll be out there,” Leno says, in reference to the other latenight hosts.

He also downplayed any potential battle for guests with Conan O’Brien, who will take over The Tonight Show after Leno steps down May 29. “There are really only 18 guests who would make a difference,” says Leno of A-listers like Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Brad Pitt. Gibson, along with Billy Crystal and Arnold Schwarzenegger, will appear on The Tonight Show during Leno’s final week.

The veteran comedian is not under any illusion that he’ll immediately succeed in his new 10 p.m. timeslot. “When I took over The Tonight Show, we lost against Letterman [for nearly two years],” he recalls. “If you lose, you work harder. We’re not expecting to blow the doors off CSI. But maybe we’ll catch up to them in the summer when they’re in reruns.”

NBC won’t say what adults 18-49 rating Leno will need to achieve to stay profitable; instead, the suits insist he’ll be viewed differently than other shows in primetime. Unlike the typical scripted series that airs for 22 weeks, Leno will be judged on a 52-week basis since he’ll be delivering original content most of the year (save a few weeks during the Olympics). “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” says NBC’s head of research Alan Wurtzel. “Leno is the quintessential counter-programming. A lot of people are looking for a real alternative. We are very bullish [about the show's future].”

Leno wasn’t particularly sold on the title, however. He wanted Weeknights with Jay Leno but the NBC brass feared the show would be nicknamed Weeknights so the network went with The Jay Leno Show, instead.

More TV Upfront news:
ABC announces fall schedule, ‘Ugly Betty’ moves to Fridays
Ken Tucker’s ‘Instant TV reviews’ of ABC’s new fall shows
NBC announces fall schedule: ‘Chuck’ stays, ‘Southland’ moves to Fridays
Ausiello Exclusive: ‘Without a Trace,’ ‘Privileged,’ canceled, ‘Gossip’ spin-off DOA
Breaking: ‘Earl, ‘Unit’ axed, ‘Medium’ moving to CBS
CBS picks up four new dramas, new Jenna Elfman comedy
Fox announces fall schedule, acknowledges Whedon fans
Ken Tucker’s ‘Instant TV reviews’ of Fox’s new fall shows
The Ausiello Files, for the latest renewals and cancellations
Ausiello’s Fall TV cheat sheet

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  • John

    I wonder what Conan’s response was when this was first announced? Leno is going to be competing for guests and he gets a head start. NBC has given up.

  • Tom Brazelton

    “Leno wasn’t particularly sold on the title, however. He wanted Weeknights with Jay Leno but the NBC brass feared the show would be nicknamed Weeknights.”
    The network was afraid the show would be nicknamed the same name Leno wanted?
    Are you sure you didn’t mean “WEAKnights?”

  • Rob

    People should boycott Leno’s new show. I happen to like Leno, but not when he takes five hours of prime time a week away from new scripted shows or old favorites and kills them off. He claims he is doing a service by harkening back to the ‘good old days’ when there were comedy variety shows like Carol Burnett’s on the air. The difference which Leno is missing or doesn’t mention, is that Carol Burnett aired one hour a week, not five. Give Leno a prime time hour once a week if NBC want’s to do so, but don’t kill off four more hours of scripted shows that are already almost extinct thanks to cheap, lousy reality shows. Leno isn’t saving TV, he is helping to destroy it. The viewers have to send a message to the networks that we won’t aid and abet them in what they are doing. Boycott Leno’s new show and reality shows. Save quality TV.

  • cisco22

    So good shows get cut from NBC, and new shows don’t get a chance just so Leno can stay in the spotlight?
    Yay! More tired, lame, unfunny material from Leno.
    Do people think he’s funny? What deal with Satan did Jay make?
    Nice job NBC, think I’m down to two shows I watch on your network…and one is a show you barely brought back, “Chuck”! Hey…that could have used a 10pm slot. And “Life”.
    NBC= No Balls Channel

  • yio

    This won’t work. I will last only one season.
    The hottest celeb scenes at http://www.actressscene.com

  • ali

    Leno is bad and Conan is bad.
    They are not even remotely funny. Every so often they hit a joke that is funny, but it’s still not laugh out loud funny. NBC thank you for becoming worse than FOX!

  • Cherlark

    I would love to see a show with the quality and laughs of The Carol Burnett Show. Unfortunately, The Jay Leno Show doesn’t qualify. I have avoided him for twenty years in the late night slot and I will continue to avoid him in primetime. In the meantime, NBC has become a network that won’t see the light of day on my TV.

  • sara

    No actor with half a brain should even think about appearing on this show. Not unless they want to contribute to the continued decline of scripted television.

  • Lara

    I think Jay Leno will do great. NBC has not brought any great programming latley except Life and Chuck and Chuck is still on. People want to watch comedy and feel good and Jay does an excellent job of doing that. I think maybe he should have been on Mon, Wed, and Fri and they should have left room for two dramas but I think that he will do great and I will def. watch

  • sara

    ummm, Lara, the reason NBC hasn’t bought much new programming is exactly because they are handing over 5 hours a week in prime time to Leno. hello!

  • Kara

    i know conan said on his show he was happy about this, but if i was conan i’d be pissed. jay basically stole conan’s thunder when it was his time to take over. now conan is stuck still following jay, who is not even funny.

  • chuck

    I also believe that the 10PM 5 night a week Leno move is BAD for TV. It say that Network TV is dying. Cable has a big opportunity here.
    http://blog.entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com/

  • Guy

    You guys do realize that one of the primary reasons NBC put Leno at 10 is because it’s cheaper then filling the time with 5 hours of scripted or unscripted programming. NBC is losing a lot of money lately this just saves them some cash. They’re slashing budgets of some of the shows they kept, so what makes you think they would want to pay more for new shows? It’s just cheaper to put jay there at 10.

  • Sam

    I like Leno, but dislike NBC. “Must see TV” has become Must Avoid TV. Being in their “target” age group, I can honestly say very few shows show any appeal to me. Perhaps Chuck, maybe Heroes (undecided about that), and sometimes the office. That is it. I have little to no idea about the rest of their schedule since it holds no appeal to me. Oh yes, there is the “Biggest Loser” but why would I want to go watch people lose weight when I can go out and workout myself during that time? Brilliant strategy NBC.
    Shows that grab my attention include 24, Dollhouse, Bones, and House on Fox. Also ABC’s Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Better off Ted, and even Scrubs which I used to watch on NBC. I just will continue to watch Fox and ABC and GE’s investment in NBC can continue to decline while the run the network into the ground. No wonder they ranked almost always fourth in the ratings.

  • jenn

    I am so angried by this. Already Medium has been cancelled (and thankfully moved to another network), so what’s next? Five hours a week amounts to almost two full nights of programming, half a week thrown away on boring comedy. Jay Leno doesn’t take risks, he always makes the obvious joke, which would be fine one night a week. But who does he think he is to replace five hours of what could be devoted to scripted tv? When this crap starts, Leno, Conan, and Jimmy Fallon (I can’t bear to include Carson Daly in this group) will make up three and a half hours of programming, compared to the measley two hours of scripted tv. Good lord, why do we need that many variations of the same jokes?

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