Leno launches U.S. prime-time television experiment
By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jay Leno launched his NBC prime-time TV talk show on Monday -- a venture whose success or failure is being closely watched by the industry -- with familiar offerings including a topical monologue and chats with fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld and a repentant Kanye West.
Leno, who ended his 17-year late-night run on "The Tonight Show" in May, began his new NBC show by greeting a few audience members on stage, shaking their hands and exchanging a few words against a background of sectioned, brightly lit columns.
His show will appear Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. It is the first prime-time talk show on U.S. television in decades.
Leno's move from his comfortable 11:30 p.m. late-night home to the nightly prime-time slot traditionally occupied by expensive scripted drama on leading U.S. networks is being scrutinized by the television industry. General Electric Co's NBC network is struggling to retain audiences and cut costs in the face of declining advertising revenue and increased competition from videogames and social networking.
"This IS the actual show," Leno began, adding, "I apologize for my face being all over the place," a reference to the extensive publicity about the new show.
After a monologue that included jokes about President Barack Obama and healthcare reform and the controversy about West and singer Taylor Swift from Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, Leno presented a filmed sketch featuring Dan Finnerty of "The Hangover" entertaining car-wash patrons.
Leno plans to have only one celebrity guest each night. But Seinfeld, the show's premier on-set guest, shared screen time with Oprah Winfrey, who appeared on tape after Leno told Seinfeld he was unable to book her.
"Hi Jerry," she chirped, and then conducted a brief chat with Seinfeld from which Leno was playfully excluded.
Ribbing Leno on the widely covered end of his "Tonight Show" run, which was quickly followed by his new program, Seinfeld cracked, "In the 90s when we quit a show, we actually left." Seinfeld even wore a tuxedo for the big night.
The first night also featured a faux interview by Leno with Obama, which spliced the president's answers from a serious media interview with the comic's questions, tailored for humor.
"What do you think of my new show?" Leno asked about the experiment, before the shot cut to Obama intoning, "I guarantee you this will be pronounced dead."
"It crashes and burns," Obama added when Leno posed a follow-up query.
Monday's show also featured an appearance by West, who before performing "Run This Town" with Jay-Z and Rihanna, again apologized for hijacking 19-year-old country music star Swift's moment in the spotlight at the Video Music Awards. West had grabbed the microphone from Swift after she won best female pop video for "You Belong With Me."
West then declared that the award should have gone to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video.
"I immediately knew in the situation that it was wrong," West told Leno. "And it was very -- it was just -- it was rude, period. ... I'd like to be able to apologize to her in person," he said. West added, "I need to, after this, take some time off and just analyze how I'm going to make it through the rest of this life, how I'm going to improve."
(Editing by Will Dunham)