4:52 p.m. PT The panel for “Mercy” ends, appropriately, with a question for James Tupper, about “Men in Trees.” That was not a good buzz-building panel for NBC.
4:55 p.m. Pages are passing out cookies shaped like race cars. Because Jay Leno loves race cars. Or because the critics haven’t been fed in over three hours, which is pretty extreme. Of the cookie, my former editor Brill Bundy observes, “It’s almond-y. It always makes me feel like I’m eating arsenic.”
4:58 p.m. They’re clearing the stage for Jay… Recap will come after the break.
4:59 p.m. But first? A clip.
5:05 p.m. We’re actually getting Rick Ludwin first to address the unanswerable late night questions from the executive session. He swears that 10 p.m. hasn’t become “late night.”
5:06 p.m. “It’s definitely going to be at least a year and we hope many years beyond that,” Ludwin says of their expectations for how long Leno will stick around. The proof, as we hear, will be in how Leno does on a 52-week basis.
5:08 p.m. NBC has three different surveys showing that audiences are really looking forward to Leno. Or to comedy. Or something. Ludwin says that affiliates like that the last segment of “The Jay Leno Show” will be comedy. Thank heavens he won’t close the show with pathos.
5:09 p.m. Music will be part of “The Jay Leno Show” probably twice a week. Ludwin promises collaborations that you wouldn’t see otherwise. The research suggests that twice a week is exactly how frequently viewers will tolerate music.
5:10 p.m. “No.” Ludwin frankly admits that he wouldn’t, in retrospect, have put out a press release calling Conan O’Brien The New King of Late Night after only one week. He calls it “premature.” Somebody spent his afternoon getting coached!
5:11 p.m. The show will feature celebrity guests, but maybe not just interviews. Leno is going to find new ways to get the guests involved in the comedy. NBC figures that Jay won’t have any trouble getting guests, saying he’s been able to coexist with Letterman for years. He’s never been coexisting with Letterman *and* The New King of Late Night simultaneously.
5:13 p.m. “I don’t think we expect viewers to sit down at 10 p.m. and not turn off their set until 2:05,” Ludwin says. He’s much better than the executives were this morning. Go Ludwin!
5:14 p.m. “We are not disappointed in Conan’s ratings at all,” Ludwin swears up and down, noting Conan’s regular wins in the key demos.
5:17 p.m. Ludwin loves live commercials. Do viewers?
5:18 p.m. Sepinwall asks if their research shows viewers require Jay Leno at 10 p.m. for their comedy? Or do they just want comedy? He also makes an “Emeril” reference to point out that in surveys, people often respond well to known quantities.
5:19 p.m. Research says that viewers don’t want Jay to change who he is.
5:20 p.m. Ludwin admits that Leno’s show probably won’t get much of a bump from DVR viewership.
5:21 p.m. Jay Leno shows up being Ludwin. “Research shows that people are against pornography,” he says. “That’s why it’s a $60 billion dollar industry.” So much for NBC’s surveys about people wanting comedy. What they want is PORN.
5:22 p.m. First questioner asks Jay to be funny about Michael Jackson’s death and Sarah Palin’s resignation.
5:22 p.m. Leno says that his signature bits — Jaywalking, et al — will be held to the last segment to give the affiliates their required comedy lead-in. This is in contrast to “The Tonight Show,” where the comedy had to be frontloaded before the long commercial.
5:24 p.m. Leno has lost 12 pounds, running four miles a day.
5:25 p.m. They have offers out to a couple people to be his first primetime guest, but he can’t tell us who it will be. The set is desk-free, but he may need a desk for the last 15 minutes so that he can do Headlines.
5:26 p.m. The show will have regular correspondents, including Brian Williams, who will be a featured guest. The correspondents will replace comedians doing stand-up appearances. He mentions Mikey Day, Rachael Harris and DL Hughley as possible correspondents.
5:27 p.m. “Not only am I still married to the same woman, I’m still driving the same car,” says Leno, who doesn’t think he’s changed.
5:28 p.m. They’ve guilt a race track next to the stage and they’re going to do something called The Green Car Challenge, in homage to “Top Gear.” He seems to be hoping for crashes. He claims Tom Cruise was interested, but wanted to practice.
5:29 p.m. I think the real key to the show is the immediacy of it,” Leno promises. “If something happens, if the President does something, we can comment on it, joke about it.”
5:30 p.m. “Do I expect to beat ‘CSI: Miami?’ No. It’s the most popular show in the world,” he says. The plan, though, is to catch the other shows in repeats.
5:31 p.m. Kevin Eubanks has written a new opening song. It will start with a monologue. “We want to keep it fast-paced,” he says, calling it “good food at sensible prices.”
5:32 p.m. “What music gets you is a great studio audience,” Leno says, explaining the two-acts-a-week plan. “What music doesn’t get you is a great television audience.”
5:34 p.m. “It will be real different,” Leno promises. It’ll only be one guest or two and, as you may have heard, no desk. He promises proximity between the audience and the guests and Leno himself. He says, “I like people. I like being among people.”
5:35 p.m. Leno says he feels no pressure.
5:35 p.m. Despite that whole “correspondents” thing, he says “The Jay Leno Show” won’t be “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” He promises more of a Big Tent approach.
5:36 p.m. Leno says that there are still plenty of great places to go on TV for great dramas. He notes that NBC tried drama at 10 p.m. and that they were ready to give up. He says that he isn’t endangering writers. “The Tonight Show” had writers and they’re well-paid, he says.
5:38 p.m. Ludwin mentioned guest involvement earlier. What will that entail? Well, Leno doesn’t say. But he does say that if guests are afraid to get involved, they shouldn’t come on the show. He cites the aforementioned Green Car Challenge as something to draw celebrities.
5:39 p.m. “I’m not counted on to save the network. The network’s on its own. Screw them,” Leno cracks when asked about the pressure to save NBC. He just didn’t want to leave NBC, even though they’ve had some differences in the past and even though he admits he became complacent at the end. He closes with, “If we go down in flames, we’ll be laughing on the way down.”
5:41 p.m. Leno says he’s never had a drink in his life. “Drinking and drugs, it just doesn’t interest me… It never has.”
5:42 p.m. A critic asks Leno why he’s so much more comfortable now than when he started on “The Tonight Show.” He replies, “I’m rich now.”
5:43 p.m. There was never any tension between Leno and Conan. Or so he says. He implies they’ll be motivated by each other.
5:45 p.m. “The one thing that kills people in this town is bitterness,” Leno says. Though he sounds a bit bitter, insisting, “No desire to go to ABC and go against Conan… That’s bitterness.” He maintains he’d rather be doing what he’s doing now than “The Tonight Show.”
5:47 p.m. That’s all folks. On to party…