In Depth

‘Jay Leno Show’ Takes Competitive Pressure Off, Graboff Says

The host of “The Jay Leno Show” doesn’t expect to beat first-run versions of the scripted dramas it will compete with at 10 p.m. weeknights starting in fall 2009.

He doesn’t have to, said Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, at a Burbank press conference the day after it was learned that Mr. Leno, who had been assessing his options for after Conan O’Brien takes over “The Tonight Show” June 1, decided to stay with NBC.

“We are not trying to compete,” Mr. Graboff said.

Instead, NBC, which has been increasingly uncompetitive at 10 o’clock, will concentrate on developing more competitive programming for the two hours that will provide Mr. Leno’s lead-in.

Mr. Leno will produce his show live to tape about three hours before it is broadcast to Eastern time-zone viewers. He will continue to occupy the studio that has been his broadcast home since 1992, when he succeeded Johnny Carson.

Billed as a comedy/talk show, “The Jay Leno Show” will continue feature familiar Leno/“Tonight” segments such as the monologue, “Headlines,” “Jaywalking” and “Battle of the Jaywalking All-Stars.”

The host said Tuesday that he hopes musical director Kevin Eubanks will join the new show.

As for guest bookings, Mr. Leno said he doesn’t expect the competition between him and Mr. O’Brien to play out any differently than it has, when the geographical availability of guests is a key factor in determining which show gets which guest first.

“Do we fight to get the guests first? Well, sure,” Mr. Leno said, adding that he’d rather fight within the family than compete with other networks’ big-guest shows.

He joked that the rumors of his likely exit from NBC has been “started by a disgruntled employee. Me.”

Well known for his work ethic—he works about 160 days per year in Las Vegas and other gigs—he said retiring is “an annoying word.”

“It’s nice to be wanted,” said Mr. Leno, who credited NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker’s campaign to keep him at the network. The man who is the biggest ratings draw in late-night TV said he had rejected an idea that he do an hour at 8 o’clock for NBC.

After the 10 o’clock notion came up, Mr. Leno said he asked the network to do some research to determine whether he’d be welcome in the time slot by affiliates, who count on the 10 o’clock hour as the lead-in to their late local newscasts.

“I don’t want to go someplace where I’m not wanted,” Mr. Leno said.

Mr. Graboff said NBC wouldn’t be making the move if there hadn’t been positive research from advertisers and the affiliate body.

The prospect of “stability” throughout the year in the key 10 o’clock hour is “something people are excited about,” said Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios.

Stability also is important to Mr. Leno, who had been courted by ABC, Fox and Sony Television. He said he likes the comfort of working with familiar people—executive producer Debbie Vickers will continue in that role in the new show—in familiar surroundings and letting his network be the boss, while he gets to focus on what he finds fun.

“Write jokes, tell jokes, get paycheck,” the host said. “I like making love, I don’t want to be a gynecologist.”