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Jay Leno says his new show 'not here to save' NBC

Only half joking, the comedian reveals details about his 10 p.m. talk show, which is key to the peacock network's hopes for a prime-time revival.

August 06, 2009|Scott Collins and Meg James

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 evening 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 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 this 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.

Leno revealed details about the new show. There will be only one guest, perhaps two, per night, 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 whether he could do some practice runs before competing, Leno said. (The host told him practice runs are forbidden.)

NBC is also encouraging affiliates not to 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 O'Brien's "Tonight" at 11:35 p.m.

"I want to keep the show fast-paced; I think that's key," Leno said.

In the morning, just 10 days into the latest NBC programming administration, Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment, and her colleague Paul Telegdy, who is in charge of unscripted programming, took center stage to face the roomful of reporters and critics. And there were more questions than answers.

At one point, Telegdy had difficulty articulating what NBC's brand is, even though a few minutes earlier Bromstad said that one of NBC's problems was that it had strayed too far from its legendary brand.

What is the NBC brand?

"Well, that's something that we have spent a lot of research and focus on, in terms of core pillars on what is and where is it an NBC show," Telegdy said. "We refer to certain key identifying characteristics of NBC shows. That they be human first, deal with real people, people that our cast, our viewers identify with. That are fundamentally positive and that embraces our comedy brand but also, an optimism. . . ."

That's when Bromstad stepped in to help her colleague, saying that it's "Heroes," "The Office," "30 Rock" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" that come closest to that elusive NBC brand.

"The returning shows that we have sort of live up to that legacy that NBC has always stood for," Bromstad said. "I think we have fallen short in the past couple of years, and it is our goal to bring back those high-quality, sophisticated drama and comedies and a brand of alternative that fits into that."

The programming chief unintentionally hit that NBC brand of laugh-out-loud comedy when she was asked to discuss the departure of NBC's co-chairman of entertainment, Ben Silverman. The former independent producer took the top NBC programming job two years ago with big promises to turn around the peacock's flagging fortunes, but fell well short.

"I think this has always been Ben's plan," Bromstad said, prompting guffaws from the critics in the room. "Sorry, I didn't mean to elicit. . . . I think it has always been Ben's plan to transition back to his entrepreneurial roots. I don't think he was looking to be at NBC for a long-term thing."

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scott.collins@latimes.com

meg.james@latimes.com

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