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Relaxed Leno says he’s ready for prime time

Jay Leno says comedy will rule on his new daily prime-time series, starting in September, and says he'll put stars in cars instead on a couch.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jay Leno says comedy will rule on his new daily prime-time series and he'll put stars in cars instead on a couch.

Leno, looking relaxed and trim — the result of running four miles a day, he said — told the Television Critics Association on Wednesday that fall's "The Jay Leno Show" will feature some elements from his old home, "Tonight," but in a far different mix.

For starters, there likely won't be the standard-issue talk show desk. Musical acts will be featured only about twice a week because, Leno said, they play better in the studio than on TV. NBC anchor Brian Williams will be filing stories that didn't make the cut on "Nightly News."

A race track is being built near NBC's Burbank studio for a regular "green car challenge" that will allow celebrities to race electric vehicles, said Leno, an automotive buff with an extensive collection. Other stunts may await guests called on to do more than talk.

Racing fan Tom Cruise called to ask if they'd have a chance to practice — and was told no, Leno said.

The show itself will be fast-moving and will make sure there are laughs heading into the local news on NBC stations. They count on a strong lead-in to sustain their lucrative newscasts.

An opening monologue and popular "Tonight" fixtures including funny headlines and "Jaywalking," in which Leno gives pop quizzes to pedestrians, will be part of the new show. Comedians including D.L. Hughley will do field reports, although Leno said his program won't have a "Daily Show" flavor.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

Leno and new "Tonight" host Conan O'Brien will compete for guests, Leno said. But he added that they're pals and it would remain a friendly rivalry.

Leno was asked if he's fretting over being expected to rescue fourth-place NBC.

"I'm not counted on to save the network. The network's on its own," he said.

Leno described himself as getting complacent after 17 years on "Tonight" and said he's excited about the challenge of creating a new show that represents a major change in network programming, taking a 10 p.m. ET slot typically filled by hourlong drama series.

"If we go down in flames, I'll be laughing," Leno said.

He was asked the source of his breezy confidence.

"I'm rich now," he replied, smiling.