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Jay Leno's first night looks a lot like old 'Tonight'

Jay Leno walks on the stage for the

Jay Leno walks on the stage for the debut of 'The Jay Leno Show' on September 14, 2009 in Burbank, California. Credit: Getty Images

The future of television Monday night looked a lot like the past. Sure, fine, he was a couple of pounds thinner, and there appeared to be a tan on that famously unbronzed exterior.

The jokes felt familiar, the monologue, too. Someone, however, might want to alert Universal lot security: The couch was missing.

Otherwise, what was so different between his last gig and this one, besides the hour?

"This is not another annoying promo," Jay Leno said reasonably at the outset of his new program. "This is the actual show."

And which show is that, Jay?

People in the audience rushed the stage - a broad expanse that backed up to something that looked like a giant checker board, which dissolved to a glittering cityscape, just like "Tonight."

He shook their hands, and seemed happy. They seemed happy, too.

As always, the monologue had some good lines and some beasts.

"I set my TiVo to get 'The Biggest Loser,' and got the Lions game." (Groan.)

"The government gave money to people for their old cars . . . I made five billion dollars." (Good.)

"I've been off the air for three months, or as most people in Hollywood, re-hab." (Better.)

The show closed with "Headlines."

Jerry Seinfeld, the very first guest, arrived just before the half-way mark. He was wearing a monkey suit, giving the impression that he was just stopping by, on the way to some really important engagement.

"I'm just trying to grasp what's going on here," said Seinfeld.

"In the nineties, when we quit a show, we actually left, but not in the Lance Armstrong/Brett Favre double-ohs."

A drop-down screen appeared, and there was Oprah Winfrey. Another guest - this time a surprise.

Kanye West, of course, was the big get - as fortuitous a first night guest as ever there was.

He told Leno "it's been extremely difficult" for him, following his incident with Taylor Swift during Sunday night's Video Music Awards.

So, we know how Kanye's night went. How about Jay's?

Consider this: He has to bring back the viewers who streamed out of "The Tonight Show" by the millions (two to be exact) when he left, and somehow make sure he's not steamrolled by CBS.

He's also got to maintain his dignity, sanity and sense of humor.

That's a lot of pressure, even for Iron Jay, and maybe why Night One felt like a work in progress - terribly rough in spots, not bad in others.

But Leno's a master showman. He'll work it out. He has to. The future of TV, or NBC, is depending on it.


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