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Leno's new show has many elements of the old 'Tonight'

PASADENA, Calif. - Maybe NBC could call it: "The New Tonight Show." Only funnier, and faster, with more comedy and a racetrack.

Ummmm. . . . A racetrack? Read on.

Appearing before critics in Pasadena, Calif., Wednesday, a slimmed-down Jay Leno - running 4 miles a day, no less - described a new show that sounds like that old one you saw him on for 17 years, with key differences. "The Jay Leno Show," launching Sept. 14 and instantly consuming about a quarter of NBC's prime-time schedule, will still have a monologue, and guests (or one guest), and all of the old faves from "Tonight" ("Jaywalking," headlines and so on.)

But, there will be the new stuff, including "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, who has signed on as a regular contributor, offering up pieces that "weren't good enough" for "Nightly," said Leno. There will be other "reporter"-contributors, like D.L. Hughley, Mickey Day and Rachel Harris.

Then, there's the set - NBC's roomy Studio 11 - that will allow for bigger comedy set-pieces, including that racetrack, which will actually be outside. Per Jay, his show will have a feature called "Green Car Challenge," in which celebrities will drive "high-powered electric cars" around a track "to see who's fastest."

Of the new time, he said "to me 10 is the new 11:30. The joy of this is the immediacy of it; if the president says something [earlier] we can comment on it and get it on the air at 10. We won't beat 'CSI: Miami,' but can we beat 'em when it's in re-run? Yes. We might not get 'em on the straight, but we'll get 'em on the corner."

And yeah, Jay does look happy, too.

There's been a little press to date that he was a reluctant recruit to 10 p.m., or regretted the decision. No evidence of that Wednesday.

Asked one, were there prior problems with NBC? Yeah, he said, "but much like a marriage, you work it out. I think [the show] will be fun, a challenge. I'm excited about it. If it goes down in flames, we'll be laughing all the way."

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