Justin Lubin/AFP/Getty
September 15, 2009 12:00 AM

Jay Leno introduced his prime-time variety/talk show Monday at 10 p.m., and it turns out that Jay Leno at 10 p.m. wasn’t much different from Jay Leno at 11:30 p.m.. But did anyone expect him to alter his DNA and come out sounding like The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart? Eager, hard-working, upbeat, Leno remains Santa’s largest elf — and it’s Christmas, whether you want it or not.

What’s groundbreaking is the show’s time slot. The Jay Leno Show is a major programming gamble for NBC. The network is clearing the 10 p.m. weeknight of episodic series and bringing in the former Tonight host only months after he retired. (His first guest, Jerry Seinfeld, referred to The Leno Show as “your ‘I didn’t get fired by NBC’ program.”) The network has pitched the show as a no-lose proposition, so cheap it could be watched by no one and turn a profit. Leno apparently remains a valuable commodity, and a relatively safe one, even in a time when talk shows more and more are enjoyable chiefly as a source of online video highlights. That’ll be the way millions end up watching the most anticipated, and disappointing, bit: Leno’s very short interview with that silly Kanye West.

Creatively, though, it’s all a big empty gesture: a bold new experiment with nothing new. It’s just early late night. And this should interest me why?

The show’s opening credits included a photo montage of Jay through his life, which gave it the feel of a Tom Brokaw generational special. There was the monologue, then a few skits, including comedian Dan Finnerty singing at a carwash, then Seinfeld, who brought on Oprah by satellite to plug her Whitney Houston interview. Then came a mock interview with the president, which was cleverly edited but went on too long, followed by the West sitdown, which was more like a sitdown-and-get-up-again, and then finally a riff on dumb headlines.

Having sat through Recycled Percussion on America’s Got Talent, this wasn’t what I was in the mood for. There was a repeat of The Closer on. That might have been good. –Tom Gliatto

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Justin Lubin/AFP/Getty

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