Leno takes reins of the 'Tonight Show'


"We have a new show, a new look, new desk, new sets, new backdrop, new staff," Jay Leno said in a recent interview. And tonight at 11:35 on WMAR-Channel 2, the all-new "Tonight Show" starring Leno debuts.

Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen, of course, signed off Friday night after the longest goodbye since Kareem Abdul Jabbar left the NBA.

Now it's Leno's turn to see if he can find a profitable niche for NBC in the multichannel world of late- night cable and syndicated competition.

One important change Leno has made is in bandleaders. He replaced Severinson with Branford Marsalis.

Leno explained the change, saying, "Branford Marsalis, being black, it gives the show the look of the '90s. It's a different era. Now the show takes on an urban view. It's more representative of the country."

Leno has his work cut out for him in trying to get young people, African- Americans and women to watch "The Tonight Show." They are three demographic groups that Carson fared horribly with for the last 10 years.

There is the extra burden Leno carries of having been picked over David Letterman to succeed Carson and Letterman's continual on-air whining about the decision.

If NBC really wanted a new sensibility that appealed to younger viewers, Letterman probably would have been the better choice. Not only is Leno going to be compared with Carson, but if he's not an instant hit, people are going to wonder aloud how Letterman might have done.

Leno has a lineup of big-name guests to help him get his show off the ground. Scheduled to appear tonight is Billy Crystal.

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