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Jay Leno Q&A: 'The Jay Leno Show' Will Not Be Another 'Tonight Show'

Fred Topel Fred Topel
September 2nd, 2009 2:23pm EDT
Jay LenoJay Leno has big plans for his new show. The Jay Leno Show won't just be another Tonight Show. That's still going on, with Conan O'Brien as the new host. Leno's return to television is more of a variety show, airing every weeknight at 10 in NBC's prime time schedule, starting September 14.

Leno still plans to have celebrity guests, but he wants to make them do more than talk. One of his planned recurring stunts is a Green Car Challenge, where guests will race in an environmentally friendly electric car. He also plans to have new correspondents filing segments for him, including NBC's serious news anchor Brian Williams.

Since it was announced in January, the television media has been buzzing about the unprecedented move to put a talk/variety show in prime time, and give the former Tonight host a new gig almost immediately. Leno addressed questions from the media with a combination of funny one-liners and serious shop talk about industry trends.

Q: Since you haven't had a weekly monologue forum over the summer, have you been missing the comic possibilities in things like the birther scandal and Sarah Palin's resignation?

Jay Leno: Oh yeah, tons of stuff. And, of course, Mark Sanford. Oh what a great story. "Honey. I'm going out for cigarettes." And you go to Argentina? What's greater than that? How many guys weren't going, "Hey, I didn't do that."

Q: Do you feel like you're being underestimated with this new endeavor?

JL: No, I don't feel under or overestimated. You just do what you do. One thing about doing comedy is when you comedy in a night club, it's possible to get the whole room. You can look around and see a guy sitting over the who's not laughing and aim jokes at him, so when you get him, you feel a sense of vindication, because you've got the whole room. When you do television, you can't get the whole room. You can get a large portion of it, but there is always going to be someone that doesn't like you because you look like their brother-in-law or there's just some reason, and you can't fight that.

Q: What do you think of the theory that Conan's performance on The Tonight Show has ceded viewers to David Letterman?

JL: Not my problem. [Laughs]

Q: Were there ever any guests you never get on The Tonight Show that you're still hoping to land?

JL: Elvis. No, we got just about everybody. Once you get the President, that's pretty good.

Jay LenoQ: How many times will you do the Green Car Challenge?

JL: Hopefully, two or three times a week, I hope. I did it because whenever I would drive a green car, like an electric car, when I drove it to the show, the female guests would go, "What is that? Does that not use gas?" And a lot of times, without sounding sexist, the guys are interested in cars, the women could car less. But this is something where the women will go, "Hey, how does that work?" And they really interested. And I think Drew Barrymore said that she would like to drive it."

Q: Could you challenge Patrick Dempsey?

JL: Patrick Dempsey's a great race car driver. I would love to get him.

Q: Joan Rivers has been saying some not so nice things about you.

JL: You know something, I like Joan. Joan was the first autograph I ever got. And you know what that stems from? Joan had a huge fight with Johnny. While Johnny was alive, we didn't put her on The Tonight Show, out of deference to Johnny. And every time I would say, "You know, let's talk about Joan Rivers." Inevitably, I'd turn on the TV and within ten days to two weeks, she would be talking about Johnny on some other show, and I just never wanted to go there. It was not my place to explain it and I didn't want to hear her talk about Johnny perhaps in a negative way on The Tonight Show. So consequently it never worked out but I think Joan is very funny, I have no animosity towards her.

Q: Is the door open for her on you're new show?

JL: We'll see. I have no problem with Joan. But I understand why she would be annoyed that we never asked her. We contemplated it and we thought about it a lot of times, but we just felt that it would be a case of it could come up and it would just be awkward.

Q: How is your autograph collection now?

JL: Good. I have everybody I had on the show.

Q: Is this summer the longest you've ever not had a job?

JL: No, I've been doing stand-up. I'm in Vegas."

Q: Is it true that since John Melendez will not be the announcer on The Jay Leno Show, that he will be a writer on the show?

JL: John will be a writer on the show, and contributor to the show and be in bits and stuff. We are just not going to have what they call a studio announcer. You know, it was awkward when I did The Tonight Show, I'd throw to Kev, and I'd throw to John, and I realized that my guy is [Kevin]. I'll go to Kev with the questions. So John will still be on, just not as announcer.

Q: Are you still going to do Celebrity Jeopardy and things like that?

JL: Yeah, the stuff that works, we'll keep that.

Q: Will Ross Matthews still have a place on the show?

JL: I think Ross will be with us. Obviously, we're looking for a lot of new people, too, so that it doesn't look like a rerun of the old show.

Q: How are you going to handle the live advertising element? What if it's Budweiser and you don't drink?

JL: Is Budweiser one of our sponsors? I have no problem with it, I'm just not a beer drinker myself and I don't hold it up or advocate it. But I can say, "Here's a word from Budweiser?" It's fine, this is not some great religious moral thing. It's just you have to be honest with the audience. If you don't use the product, I feel like a hypocrite, You know, like, "I just had a beer." Well, I don't drink that and then you sound kind of phony. But I have no problem saying, "You can drink it, that's fine."

Q: Are you going to make any of the products funny?

JL: We're not really doing [that]. What it'll probably be is that I'll do a live throw. It's the same thing that I did on The Tonight Show. I didn't do any live commercials. John would do them, or somebody else on the show would do them. I didn't do them.

Q: As you're doing live shows in clubs, what feedback are you getting from fans looking forward to this show?

JL: I'm surprised at how good the feedback is actually. I think it's going to work. I think it will work, and I think it will be fun trying. You go down swinging anyway."

Q: You actually don't mention the show in your act.

JL: No, I always keep it separate. I always keep the two separate.

Q: Why? Don't you think people would be curious?

JL: I think it's just you.

Q: Did you take any time off?

JL: I'm not a big time off kind of guy.

Q: Do you ever go to a resort and try to rest?

JL: No, I don't want to go to a stupid resort and look like an idiot.

Q: What do you love most about your job?

JL: Well, this part is fun. You know what I like about this part? I used to love the old movies, where the guy would go, "Hey Jay, how about a story?" "Hey, take it easy fella, take it easy." I laugh. I always think of those old movies, "Hey, take it easy fella, here's your story. I'll give you a story," and then they put the mic [in his face] and the flashbulbs go off. It's very funny, I used to love that stuff.

Q: Is there another children's book in you?

JL: I don't have time for another children's book, for a while. But those are all charity books.

Q: Have you guys started writing jokes for the monologues for a show that doesn't exist yet?

JL: I haven't written any jokes, that will start in a couple of weeks.

Q: Will it be 30 jokes in the beginning again or more?

JL: Well, I think it'll be the same thing. 10-14 minute monologue like we did on The Tonight Show."

Q: Do you think people could get talk show fatigue?

JL: Well, we're not doing a talk show, hopefully. It won't look like a talk show. But you know something, they're all on after me, so it's not my problem.

Q: Is your goal really to make it look so much different than anything on after 11:30?

JL: Well, I don't know if it looks so much different that you'll be stunned that it looks so different, I just think that it will just have a different feel to it.

Q: Are you surprised by the amount of reaction from the press that you'll be taking over the ten o'clock hour?

JL: I guess it's just a slow news day, it's summer, there's not really any other stories. So, I guess that's what makes it interesting.

Q: Do you think you'll be able to attract an bigger audience beyond those who are loyal to you from The Tonight Show?

JL: That's going to be interesting to see. That's going to be interesting to see, like I say, I hope with the correspondents that there'll be a lot of diversity in the show, the show will look like America, it's not just going to be a bunch of white guys. I think that aspect of it, people will like. A lot of women, a lot of female input the show, female writers, female performers, so I feel good about that. The feel I'd like to get on the show, you kind of come together and have a few laughs before you go to bed. As much as I like Law and Order SVU, it's hard to watch someone being violated right before the 11 o'clock news.

Q: You seem so at ease with your career. Where does that come from?

JL: You know something, the real trick is to lead a normal life and make show business money. I have the same friends that I had in high school, I'm still married to the same woman, still driving the same car, actually. So it's fun, it's fun to come home and have enough money to take care of relatives or any problems that people have without going crazy on it. It's just a matter of putting things in perspective."

Q: What was your first car, you have so many now?

JL: My first car was a '34 Ford pick-up truck. It's fantastic, I bought it when I was 14 and I spent two years driving up and down the driveway.

Q: Did Dave wish you well when you left?

JL: Dave? I haven't spoke to him in a long time, but he's in New York and I'm here [in L.A.] I haven't heard from him.

Q: Did Jimmy Kimmel send you a basket of fruit or anything?

JL: Well, Jimmy's a friend of mine. You know something, only about four or five people in the world do this, and it's fun to have a relationship with them. [Craig] Ferguson's a friend of mine, I like him very much, a very funny guy, and Kimmel, I've done his show a couple of times, and Conan and Jimmy Fallon. I mean, Dave and I haven't spoken in years, and that's kind of sad, but other than that, we all get along pretty good. We all do the same thing.

Q: Are you doing to do Kimmel's show when you start to promote your show?

JL: No, because I think the first time I want to be seen is on The Tonight Show.

Q: What do you think of Wanda Sykes coming into the talkshow arena?

JL: I love Wanda Sykes. I think she'll do great. She's really funny. I was hoping to get Wanda Sykes on my show, that's who I wanted to work with me.

Q: What about George Lopez?

JL: I'm sure George will do fine as well. We'll see, I mean, they are all on at 11:00, so I'm the only one at 10:00, so we have a little jump on them.

Q: You mentioned talking to some stars about Green racing. Who else has called you to be on the new show?

JL: Well, all the people that I have had on The Tonight Show. Whoever you think of, those who the people will be. The advantage I think to the stars is, I think, that they will be on an hour earlier. Actually an hour-and-a-half earlier. Ten o'clock, nine central will be a better position to talk about whatever they want to talk about."

Q: Could you still get Obama?

JL: I would love to get Obama again. He was the greatest guest.

Q: Are you going to tape the new show earlier?

JL: No, we'll do it about the same time. We'll tape about 4:00 or 4:30.

Fred TopelStory/Interview by Fred Topel

Starpulse contributing writer

(Starpulse in Hollywood): Every week, Hollywood's biggest stars are meeting in the hot spots and Starpulse is there.



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