The most anticipated and controversial new show of the fall TV season debuts Monday night, and it's not a procedural drama, sit-com or even a reality program. Instead, it's The Jay Leno Show, a five-night-a-week primetime show (WSMV-4, 9 p.m.) that NBC's been promoting all summer long as a comedy alternative to the other networks' 9 p.m. offerings.
Leno's been on the cover of everything from Time magazine to Variety and done tons of interviews, constantly downplaying the notion the fate of the network hinges on how well his program does, and refusing to call the nightly enterprise "a variety show."
He's also dismissing any and all comparisons between The Jay Leno Show and The Tonight Show, which he hosted for 17 years and kept number one in the late-night ratings for most of that time.
Instead, Leno claims that he'll be introducing some new segments, and keeping old favorites, while also only having one guest per program and tweaking the mix of talk, variety and sketch comedy. He will also be introducing "correspondents" all week, including Miley Cyrus on Wednesday's program.
Monday's opening episode features main guest Jerry Seinfeld with musical performers Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rihanna. Other guests during premiere week will include Tom Cruise (Tuesday), Robin Williams (Wednesday), Halle Berry plus Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers along with Eric Clapton (Thursday) and Drew Barrymore and comedian Jim Norton (Friday).
NBC has been putting out fires for weeks, from angry comments made by current actors on other shows to affiliate rebellions in places like Boston (the station initially refused to air the show until NBC threatened to switch affiliations in the market). Network executives are on record saying they don't expect to beat popular CBS and ABC programs in the ratings during the season, just be competitive, then grab audiences when those outlets are airing reruns.
Whether that strategy works or not won't be known for several months, but Monday night we begin to see if The Jay Leno Show truly represents the wave of the future or just another misguided present-day mistake.
End of an era
Few shows in any format last more than 10 years and even fewer make it to 20. But Friday marks the end of the longest-running dramatic series in television history.
The Guiding Light began on radio in 1937, then moved to TV in 1952. The final episode airs Friday at 2 p.m. (WTVF-5), making it 15,700 shows over its long tenure. While there have been some stories floated over the last few weeks about the show moving online, as of press time it seems that when Friday's edition ends that will truly be the last Guiding Light.
After what seems like years (actually the show's been off the air since 2007) Curb Your Enthusiasm returns Sunday at 8 p.m. on HBO. There are some big plans for the revived program, most notably the Seinfeld reunion show scheduled for Oct. 4.
There's also the return of Vivica A. Flox and some sort of resolution involving problems between star Larry Davis and estranged spouse Cheryl (Cheryl Hines). Though nowhere as big a cult favorite as some other HBO shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm has both a solid following and widespread critical praise, having earned 28 Emmy nominations and won one Golden Globe award.