Jay Leno's Show Last-Ditch Gamble for NBC

The eyes of the entire television industry will be watching Jay Leno tonight when he debuts his new primetime comedy-variety show.

"The Jay Leno Show" is a huge gamble for NBC, which is turning over an entire hour of primetime entertainment, five days a week, for the next two years to one person.

The show will start with a fast opening sequence followed by Leno's monologue, NBC says. It will include comedy correspondents (D.L. Hughley will report on politics from Washington), a celebrity guest (Monday is Jerry Seinfeld) and a musical segment, which will sometimes feature multiple acts performing together (Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rihanna will perform Monday).

But NBC appears to be downplaying the risk of the new show's five-day primetime format by lowering the bar on everything from advertising rates to claiming victory ahead of tonight's 10 p.m. launch.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the network has settled for half of what they would usually get per commercial for a new episode of a drama.

"They knew that they couldn't command premium rates and that the buying community wanted something less expensive," Andy Donchin, director of media investments for Carat, told ABCNews.com. "We knew that the 10 o'clock hour was most likely not going to do as well as it did last year. I don't think NBC expects it to do as well, either."

"On the other hand, NBC is obviously saving a lot of money on Leno," Donchin continued. "We wanted a piece of that pie, too."

NBC has said it can still turn a profit with reduced ad rates because Leno is far less expensive to produce than a scripted show.

"We are beyond pleased with the ad performance for "The Jay Leno Show" and are eagerly awaiting the show's premiere on Monday," an NBC spokeswoman said in a statement to ABCNews.com.

Even Leno has tried to downplay the hype preceding the show.

"It's just a comedy show," he told critics during a conference call Tuesday.

Asked if he thinks his show is the future of television, as Time magazine suggested on its recent cover story on Leno, the comedian laughed.

"That's hilarious," he said. "That shows you the trouble we are in."

The "we" could be referring to No. 3 ranked NBC, which hasn't had a primetime hit in years. Rather than try to compete with the usual drama or news magazine show during the 10 to 11 p.m. time slot, NBC decided to try something completely different. Leno's comedy-variety show marks a major departure for a broadcast network -- and not everyone thinks it's a good idea.

"There is a resistance to what they've done, there's something un-American about surrendering a fight," James Hibberd, the senior online editor for The Hollywood Reporter, told ABCNews.com.

"Will he do better than other broadcasts in the 10 p.m. hour?" Hibberd continued. "He certainly won't. But that's not the way NBC is defining what constitutes a win in the game."

Hibberd said NBC will measure the show's success not by how it does against other dramas airing during the same hour, but by how well it does against Leno's own ratings when he hosted "The Tonight Show."

In Leno's 17-year run as "Tonight Show" host, he averaged 5 million viewers a night before handing the reigns over to Conan O'Brien in June.

"Comparing Jay Leno to a 22-week scripted show is not an apples-to-apples comparison," Mike Pilot, NBC's president of sales and marketing, told the Wall Street Journal.

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