'Leno' aims for new feel, format in show

BURBANK — Jay Leno sauntered through glass doors and onto a newly renovated stage, nonchalant and trimmer since “The Tonight Show” stopped taping across the lot in May.

“The monologue is right here,” Leno said Wednesday, inching toward rows of stadium seats.

Technicians and stage hands bustled in the background, readying the set for the Sept. 14 primetime premiere of “The Jay Leno Show.”

The 59-year-old host continued past two 103-inch televisions, a practicing band and large detailed pictures from his vast car collection.

“Pay no attention to the that,” said Leno, who earlier this month promised a more relaxed set than what viewers of “Tonight” were used to. “They built a desk, they built a traditional set, just to see what it looked like. We won’t use a desk.”

The show, unlike his previous gig with the peacock network, is not a talk show, and promises to be faster paced with more comedic elements designed to hold viewer attention into the local news broadcast, he said.

The monologue, Jay Walking and Headlines will remain, but instead of the usual two or three guests, the show will incorporate short clips shot and edited by up-and-coming comics.

He gave the example of a segment that involves a visit to a retirement center to teach seniors about the wonders of the online social networking site Twitter.

“The old days of a comic standing on a mark and telling jokes for five minutes, that doesn’t really hold an audience anymore,” Leno said. “What we’re doing is we have about 15 or 18 comics, we give them a camera and a crew, shoot something funny, edit it, bring it in.

“If we can break some comics and make some stars that would be great.”

Music will also continue to be a part his program, but not as much as it has been in the late-night format. On premiere night, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Rihanna are scheduled to perform together.

The colorful set, complete with LED scrolls, a moving stage and a custom-designed cityscape, is the brainchild of Brandt Daniels, who pulled together the region’s most architecturally interesting buildings.

“We’re going to have people running all over Los Angeles looking for this view and they won’t be able to find it,” he said.

Leno, about 10 pounds leaner from regular four-mile runs, said he isn’t feeling the tension, despite returning to a network in need of a shot in the arm.

“Look, I am the world’s oldest quarterback,” he said. “I am glad at my age they’re still asking me to be in the game . . .  I like being in Burbank. I don’t want to go to Universal City. I don’t want to be on an amusement park lot.”

Considering that many of the network’s productions have left the city, whose storied history includes Johnny Carson, Tom Snyder and “Laugh In,” Leno said he hates to see shows leave.

“It’s like going to the Midwest and they show you where the factory used to be,” he said. “This is a vibrant town. If we left there really wouldn’t be much left here.”

It doesn’t hurt that the location makes it harder for bosses to breathe down his neck.

“There aren’t any annoying network executives here,” he said. “They’re all down at Universal. If they want to come here they have to get into a car and drive.”

Leno’s tour continued out a rear door of Studio 11 — 5,000 square feet larger than his previous stage — and outside. Construction crews were breaking ground on a racetrack for a green car challenge that will allow celebrities to race electric vehicles.

Think product placement.

“You don’t want to overdo it, make it obvious and over the top,” he said of the advertisements. “That’s the track that we’re sticking to.”


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