The Tonight Show host talks about his new show premiering next year

By Paul Chi
Updated December 09, 2008 02:45 PM
Credit: Paul Smith/Featureflash/Retna

It’s official! After he leaves The Tonight Show, Jay Leno will keep America laughing – an hour and half earlier.

On Tuesday, NBC announced that Leno will stay with the network and host a new primetime comedy/talk show five nights a week starting in the fall of 2009. The one-hour show will air at 10 p.m., making it the first program of its kind to be featured on primetime on a broadcast network.

“Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in,” Leno jokingly told reporters at a press conference in Los Angeles Tuesday.

“Originally, I wasn’t going to stay with NBC,” he quipped. “But my parents said, ‘Whatever you do in life, always try to come in 4th.’ ”

The new show will feature many of the late-night host’s familiar segments, including Leno’s opening monologue and popular sketches “Headlines” and “Jaywalking.” Another familiar face returns with Leno: Bandleader Kevin Eubanks.

But expect some changes such as “a little more topical stuff and news makers,” said Leno. “We will try to get out of the studio more.”

As for the show’s title, Leno said, “Well, for a lack of a better word, I guess it’s called The Jay Leno Show right now. My mother always goes, ‘Why do you put your name on everything?’ ”

Conan Stepping In

NBC surprised the TV business four years ago by announcing that Conan O’Brien would take over as host of The Tonight Show in May 2009.

According to a network insider, for the last two years NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker has been courting Leno, hoping to woo him into staying with the network.

“Jeff knew how to appeal to Jay’s sense of loyalty,” the insider tells PEOPLE. “He knew Jay s feelings were hurt when he was told he’d have to move out to make room for Conan in 2009, but Jeff also knew that Jay’s late night ratings have remained strong while Conan’s have begun to dip.”

On Tuesday, Leno said there is no bad blood between him and O’Brien.

“Conan and I are great friends,” Leno said. “In 2004, when I handed it off to Conan, we couldn’t have been friendlier. I spoke to him to last night, and quite frankly I think it’s fair to say right now our show does better than a lot of the 10 o’clock shows so that provided a good lead in for Conan. I’ve always given Conan the lead in for my show in the past and will continue to do that in future.”

Asked if he was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving TV as time for the hand-over approached, Leno said, “It’s nice to be wanted.”