Jay Leno snagged mostly negative reviews with his entry into prime time as he stuck to familiar ground — just 90 minutes earlier.
Despite the critical backlash, 17.7 million viewers tuned in to check him out. Nielsen Media Research says that’s the biggest audience for a prime-time television show since the "American Idol" finale in May.
Monday's premiere of "The Jay Leno Show," which transports the longtime "Tonight Show" host to 10 p.m. EDT weekdays on NBC, was slammed as a "cut-rate, snooze-inducing, rehashed bore" by Robert Bianco of USA Today. And that was even with the presence of Leno's much-buzzed-about guest Kanye West.
The Associated Press' Frazier Moore identified "the biggest difference between Leno's new show and his old one: With his fade-out at 11 p.m., the local news began."
Of course, Leno has never been the critics' darling.
But audience numbers aren't likely to sway The Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara, who called the show "a strange, shallow puddle of comedy."
"This is the future of television?" she wrote. "This wasn't even a good rendition of television past."
"The future of 'The Jay Leno Show' is likely to look almost exactly like 'The Tonight Show' past," complained Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times. "So much ink has been devoted to describing how Mr. Leno's new show would depart from his old one that it was startling to see how little difference there was."
And many questions have swirled: Will a cost-cutting comedy show stripped across weeknights imperil more expensive weekly scripted drama shows? Will the audience embrace this NBC alternative to fictional docs, cops and lawyers? Has fourth-rated NBC found a strategy that not only will improve its fortunes, but also alter the programming landscape on rival networks?
Or will this prove to be NBC's biggest flop yet?
These are questions likely to remain unresolved for months.
The premiere was relentlessly hyped by NBC all summer, even prompting Leno to crack when he arrived on stage, "This isn't another annoying promo. This is the actual show!"
For his debut, he had booked a relatively big name, Jerry Seinfeld, besides lucking into TV's biggest get, Kanye West, who was not only able to perform a song ("Run This Town," along with Jay-Z and Rihanna), but also apologize lugubriously for his bad behavior on an MTV awards show Sunday night.
Giving curious viewers yet more reason to sample Jay's first night was the fact that ABC and CBS were airing retreads during his time slot: the final hour of the 2006 film "Dreamgirls" and a rerun of "CSI: Miami," respectively.