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Jay Leno Talks Conan Ratings & Skepticism Of His Show Ahead Of Premiere

You would expect Jay Leno to be getting nervous now that premiere day for his primetime show is here, but the veteran comedian says he's actually rather relaxed.

"I'm still pretty laid back," says Leno. "Like I say NBC in fourth place you can't do any worse. I mean, you know what it is, this is not as nerve-wracking as taking over from Johnny because then you were sort of an unknown entity. At this point people kind of know what you do."

"They either like it or they don't and, you know, you kind of keep doing what you always did but maybe with new energy and new excitement and some new bits and you see how people like it. I mean all you can do is give it your best shot, you know."

As for skepticism from CBS President Les Moonves and others that the show is destined the fail, Leno says: "I enjoy it and I know these guys, you know. Les Moonves was the bartender at the Improv when I worked there. And my favorite quote of Les's was 1993 that Leno beating Letterman this week was an aberration; you will not see that happen again. I can guarantee that. That one always made me laugh when I read that."

"I mean, I've been very fortunate, I had great success with the Tonight Show and I enjoyed doing that and no matter what happens in your life that's kind of your legacy. It was number one when I got it and 17 years later when I left it was number one."

"So, you know what it is, it's trash talk. And if you like playing the game it's great fun. And I enjoy playing the game. I mean they all vowed none of their guests will be on our show. We either can all support one another and promote each other's shows; we can all go back into our little cave and pretend like we're the only thing on."

"To me I think Lost is the best show on television. I like the CSI shows, I think they're all well done. I have no problem promoting those shows on my show because first of all get people the network TV, just get them there. Once they're there okay then you can argue about what's best. So to me I think it's sort of disingenuous oh none of our people will be on there. Really? I mean why don't we all just promote one another and we can all stay in business."

With Letterman now winning the ratings battle nightly, since his departure from the 'Tonight Show', Leno notes that the first few years after a transition are always rough.

"That's not my problem but, you know, I went through this when I took over from Johnny. You go through the 6-8 weeks of you stink, you suck, we hate you. You know, you know, I mean, people are loyal to whoever the last person was. And you either whine and complain about it or you put your nose to the grindstone, you write the jokes and you do it."

"I think Conan has handled it great. He doesn't complain. He does what he has to do and he puts on a good show every night and he writes jokes, tells material. And now it's up to people to either pick up on it or they don't. But I think he's handling it right and going about it the right way. And he'll be fine."

"It's the same thing I went through. You know something I can remember someone sent me an article from 1969 and it said, 'When is Jack Parr coming back?' This Johnny Carson with this sex jokes and his so and so it's rude, it's this, it's that. And Johnny had been on for seven years and they're still going when's Parr coming back? And then eventually you work hard and you make it your own. And I think that's the real key."

As for whether he expects men or women to perform better on the new Green Car Challenge segment, Leno says it will be probably be the latter, and for good reason.

"You know, we have Justin Bell who's the world-class and world famous racecar driver and he's working with the celebrities. And I think the fun thing you'll find is the women might actually do better than the men because, A, they're lighter and second of all they take direction better."

"You know, guys get in there and just put their foot down and plow ahead thinking oh I'm not scared. You know, and consequently they'll overshoot the track or spin out whereas the women tend to pay a little bit more attention. So, you know, racecar driving is like sex all men think they're good at it, you know."

Leno hopes to be able to have fun with celebrity guests on the racetrack "at least a couple times a week."

September 14, 2009 |

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