Sep 13, 2009 11:13 AM by Jamie Smith
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 primetime 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."
But 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 counterprograms 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," Carter said. "And he's about right."
But 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 primetime." And maybe make laughter contagious.
"The Jay Leno Show" premieres on KOAA TV channel 5 on Monday at 9 p.m.