NBC's primetime lineup undergoes a major change Monday night when Jay Leno moves in from late night.
But the move doesn’t come without risks or a ripple effect.
If Jay Leno feels any pressure heading into his new show Monday, it pales in comparison to when he took over the Tonight Show.
"Following Johnny Carson, you stink, you suck, we hope you die, for the first year. There's no more worse pressure than that,” he says.
From his colorful and larger new studio, ‘The Jay Leno Show’ will be the first ever nightly hour of primetime comedy on a major network.
Bill Carter, national media reporter for the New York Times says, “What Jay did 17 years ago was daunting, because he was following a legend. Here, he's stepping into the unknown."
Carter’s been covering the late night TV scene for years for the Times and wrote a best-selling book about it "The Late Shift.”
But he says there’s more pressure on NBC than Leno.
Carter says, “If this is a cratering failure, they'll really behind the 8 ball for quite a while. It really is a gigantic risk for them."
Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment, says, "I think it's a smart risk."
Gaspin says Leno at nine makes sense as a comedy alternative that counter-programs the other networks and technology.
"We really think we have an opportunity to attract some people back who would go to their DVRs or would go to cable at that time,” Gaspin says.
Money’s also a factor. Leno’s show will cost much less than dramas that have largely struggled to attract viewers.
Carter says, “Jay says he can do five episodes for the cost of one helicopter explosion on a drama. And he's about right."
But saving money won’t matter without an audience, and Leno’s confident he’ll have one.
"I don't expect to beat shows like CSI Miami and shows like that in the premiere week, but they're only on 22 weeks a year. We're on 46 weeks a year with original programming, so we'll see what happens,” Leno says.
The competition may be waiting for Leno to fail, but Carter points out the comedian’s been the underdog before.
"He was underestimated before he got the Tonight Show, he was underestimated when he went against David Letterman, other people in the comedy business underestimated him, and all he did was win,” Carter says.
In this case, Leno may not even have to win to be victorious.
"Before, I was following an icon, now I'm just following shows that were in fourth place!” Leno says.
"If this show succeeds, everyone else in television is going to have to try it, because it will save NBC so much money, it will transform the economics of primetime,” Carter says.
And maybe he’ll make the laughter contagious.
Among Leno’s first guests, Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Cruise.
The Jay Leno Show premiers Monday at 9 p.m. on 11 News.
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