Jay Leno's Show Last-Ditch Gamble for NBC

While the network shied away from talking about the competition, Leno had no such fear. At a critics press tour last month, Leno said he expects to beat the drama programs -- in reruns.

"Do I expect to beat 'CSI: Miami'?" he asked. "No. Do I expect to beat them in repeats? Yeah. I don't expect to get them on the straights but catch them in the corners."

Besides its celebrity and musical guests, Leno's show will also include some of the comedian's signature comedy bits, like Jay Walking. He'll save newspaper headlines for the end of the show when he'll tell viewers to stay tuned for their local news.

A regular feature of the show will be the "Green Car Challenge," where celebrities race against each other in electric-powered Ford Focus cars on a specially built race track next to the studio.

"It's basically product placement for Ford," Hibberd said. "When you create segments for that reason, it almost never works."

But Donchin believe it can and will lead to more advertising "integration" within television programs.

"That's the direction the industry has to head in," he said. "You almost have to go back to the sponsorships of the '50s and '60s."

But don't compare Leno's new show to 1970s variety shows like "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Carol Burnett Show" and "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," which were immensely popular in primetime, Hibberd said.

"It's hard to use those to see how people are going to react in 2009," he said. "That was such a long time ago."

The closest thing to Leno's show on television now is Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," with its mix of comedy correspondents, joking with the audience and celebrity guests. But Leno is no Jon Stewart. And his fans don't want him to be, Hibberd said.

"Jay Leno has done well doing things very much the same," he said. "People don't think of going to him for edgy, digital shorts. It will be curious to see whether his sense of humor and the comedy people expect of him mesh with his correspondents' segments."

Hibberd expects big numbers for Leno during his debut week but said they will fall off by week two. Where the numbers will settle is anyone's guess.

Donchin said his clients give the show a "thumbs up."

Hibberd believes we'll have to wait and see.

"Anybody who says they know how it's going to do is full of it," he said. "There are too many variables in the mix, which is what makes it exciting."

And if the show fails to ignite NBC?

"To say that I have a clear backup plan would be exaggerating," Jeff Gaspin, the chairman of NBC, told the Wall Street Journal.

ABC News Radio's David Alpert contributed to this report

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