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New Jay Leno Storms TV Press Tour

New Jay Leno came to Summer TV Press Tour 2009 to tell TV critics about his new NBC 10 p.m. weeknight strip and to let them know if they don't like it they can lump it.

Old Jay Leno had looked doughy and stressed out, and bombed at NBC's "chucklefront" presentation to advertisers last May.

New Jay Leno is rested, pugnacious, and 12 pounds lighter - having taken up running four miles a day, he says.

He also looks about 10 years younger than two months ago when he was last seen on his maudlin finale as host of NBC's "Tonight Show."

New Leno says "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams will become a regular on "The Jay Leno Show," reading Stories That Weren't Good Enough for 'Nightly News.'

New Leno has recruited comics as correspondents to file field reports, including D.L. Hughley -- who crashed and burned doing a topical comedy talk show for CNN. Hughley is going to cover Washington politics.

Other comics/correspondents include Mikey Day - aka Selma Blair's smitten husband on "Kath & Kim" -- and Rachael Harris, who played that girlfriend in "The Hangover."

But this isn't "The Daily Show," New Leno says - it's a more "accessible" and "big tent."

Besides, "The Daily Show" doesn't have a race track next to its studio, like car-nut Leno will have next to Studio 11 in Burbank, on which celebrity guests might be asked to race around in high-powered electric cars.

See, celebrities don't get to show up on New Leno's new series just to sit around on a couch, and talk about Their Ideals and The Future of Their Art, while plugging their new flick, new TV show, or new CD.

Celebrities will be put to work, amusing us.

Music performances are out as the final act - replaced by Leno's signature comedy bits - Jaywalking, Funny Headlines, etc. - After which your NBC station's local news will start immediately.

It all sounds exhausting.

New Leno doesn't think much of Old Leno's "Tonight Show" format.

"It's frontloaded," says New Leno.

The best stuff is jammed in from 11:30-midnight. "Then the six- minute break - that's where you lose them. So you come back and have a comic or actress from a second-string series, and then the music [he snores]-- Good Night."

New Jay Leno does not suffer stupid questions during Q&A sessions.

One critic asks if he would tinker with the show's format depending on that days's guests.

"Well, duh!" says New Leno.

Another suggests he's being counted on to save the network. (NBC reportedly is paying Leno about $30 million a year to host five hours of primetime a week.)

"I'm not counted on to save the network. The network's on its own - screw the network!"

New Leno scoffs at suggestions his Monday- through- Friday show is taking work from creators of scripted dramas - noting his show employs a lot of writers who are among the highest paid in the writers' guild.

"If YOU want to say drama writers are better than comedy writers - okay. I don't necessarily agree."

New Leno says he's never had a drink in his life --- somehow it came up.

"The audience is stunned by this!" New Leno smirks -- because they are.

"Suddenly I'm a freak - talk about controversial!"

New Leno snickers when critics suggest he's going to get into a booking war with "Tonight" host Conan O'Brien.

"It's a game. When you go out to play a game, you play to win and you tease and you trash talk. That's the fun."

One critic observes New Leno is very different from Old Leno and wonders how he got that way.

'I'm rich now!" New Leno crows.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  August 6, 2009; 3:07 AM ET
Categories:  Summer TV Press Tour 2009  
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