Perhaps you have seen the incessant NBC promotions for The Jay Leno Show, promising unprecedented comedy in the 10 o'clock hour for American TV viewers? (If you have a TV, then of course you have, and I wonder if the people in the Central and Mountain time zones get their own ads that say 9 p.m., or if they're just confused? That last part may be rhetorical) Leno has done a lot of press to promote it this summer, from the official TCA "tour," to traveling to various NBC affiliates for promos and interviews, to a conference call earlier this week. We've gotten the message. And the conventional wisdom has been NBC is willing to bet on five hours of comedy as a cheaper option without the promise of big ratings. But. Wait. Just. One. Second.
Five hours of comedy. Much of it stand-up, or taped segments produced and starring stand-up comedians. In primetime! This is a much bigger deal. Jerry Seinfeld, tapped to be Leno's first guest on Monday's debut, has been taking it seriously enough that he has rehearsed his stand-up material several times this week in New York City comedy clubs.
After all, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s only aired once a week. So was Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour; Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In; The Milton Berle Show; even The Jack Paar Program that some have compared Leno's move most closely to, only aired one night a week. Which means Leno will need to fill a lot of airtime, and he has enlisted a cadre of comedians to help him do so. NBC so far has announced that Leno will be airing contributions from D.L. Hughley, Jim Norton, Rachael Harris, Mikey Day, Dan Finnerty and the Dan Band, Liz Feldman, Brian Unger, Nick Thune, Owen Benjamin, Marina Franklin, Sebastian Maniscalco and former Leno intern Ross Matthews. UPDATED: Also Dwayne Perkins, who wasn't listed on the NBC press release, but was showing up on the TV ads for Leno during Thursday night's NFL coverage. And here is video of Time magazine photographing Leno on the new set.
In some interviews, Leno has said he's not looking to do what The Daily Show does, (except for the fact that he'll have NBC's own news anchor, Brian Williams presenting funny news) which is true only in that he already had been sending out comedians into the world to file their own takes on the news — as this NBC clip package shows:
From what I have learned talking to the comedians who are participating on the show, as well as looking at what these people were bringing to the table already, I think I'm safe in telling you what we can expect from the part of Leno's hour that does not include celebrity car races, Headlines, Jaywalking or Jay's monologue.
D.L. Hughley, though he lives in NYC and L.A., will be filing reports from Washington, D.C. Of course, Hughley earned some vital experience in politics, field pieces and TV politics when he hosted his own weekly hour of news/satire last year on CNN. Here's a good example of what you can expect from Hughley:
Jim Norton will be doing live stand-up on the show. He was prepping some material this summer at various clubs in New York City that were separate from his regular routine, because as Norton told me, he'll be called upon to devote five minutes or so to any given topic, and by doing it live, he'll be able to interact with the audience and with Leno. Norton already has plenty of experience with topical matters, with his steady morning gig as the sidekick to Opie & Anthony, and his frequent appearances on the late-night FOX News chatfest, Red Eye. Here's a recent clip of Norton proving he can be TV clean on Letterman from May 2009:
Rachael Harris was a correspondent on The Daily Show from 2002-2003, and also a frequent chatter on VH1's Best Week Ever back then. You may have seen her more recently in ABC's In The Motherhood, Comedy Central's Reno 911!, and as the wife who drove Ed Helms crazy in The Hangover. She has said that her recurring segment will be called "Recessioning It with Rachael."
Mikey Day already has been out in the field filming fake paparazzi pieces (which is not to be confused with the outright fake pap segments that Spike Feresten did on FOX last year). But what was interesting to me even more than that was learning that this was his audition clip that helped get him the gig. Why is this interesting? Because Day isn't the star of this clip (and of course now that I'm looking for it, it's gone from Funny or Die). So here's an even more interesting substitute. This is what Leno's new JMZ segment looked like when it was just Day and friends with his girlfriend, Selma Blair. SUPER FUN FACT COINKYDINKY? Selma Blair was part of Leno's test show last night. My friends at Comedy.com have all the details!
Dan Finnerty and the Dan Band is known for taking on contemporary hit songs that don't look like they should be sung and/or danced by them, and then singing and dancing along to them. They have done this in a few recent movies. Here is an original tune they did for NBC's Last Comic Standing, for an idea of what you'll get with these fellas:
Liz Feldman has been doing her own take on Hollywood press junkets in a Funny or Die series called Shack Talk, and it'd be pretty easy to expect her to do the same thing for Leno. At least the junket half, right? Here's what her Shack Talk episode with Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow looked like:
Brian Unger can be seen on your TVs this summer promoting BMW in ads. But he's also a Daily Show vet as one of the original correspondents, and has offered commentaries for NPR. Zach Galifianakis employed Unger to interview him (and his brother, Seth) for his DVD, Live at the Purple Onion, which you can enjoy, just for Galifianakis alone!
Nick Thune has a guitar and knows how to play it. Thune told me his contributions will consist of six-minute speeches that he'll set to music. "Very presidential," he told me. Here is what it looked and sounded like earlier this summer when Thune appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:
Owen Benjamin also told me he'll be doing something musical. Benjamin has done plenty of music videos and other shorts in the past for Sony's Crackle (aka CSpot). He also had a webseries on CBS this spring that played off of NCAA's March Madness. Here is a clip of Benjamin performing live on the piano, for just a taste:
Marina Franklin will be filing reports from her neighborhood in Harlem. Here, though, is a short clip of Franklin walking about in London, trying out one very specific NSFW portion of her act on unsuspecting Brits (a more complete set of hers can be seen here). You may have seen Franklin on Chappelle's Show, and you'll be able to see more of her in the upcoming stand-up documentary, Awkward Kings of Comedy.
Dwayne Perkins has been spotted in the most recent TV ads for the show, telling us about how some of the correspondents, such as himself and Franklin, will be out and about gathering man on the street footage. So, not Jaywalking, but still taking advantage of the natural humor that comes about when you stick a TV camera and a microphone in front of the average person. Perkins is a funny stand-up himself. Here's a recent ad spoof he did (and he knows about being in actual ads, too, such as this Verizon ad):
Sebastian Maniscalco offers social commentary with a distinctly, I don't want to say Italian, but well, Italian attitude. That's a good thing, right? Here's a clip that promoted his 2009 stand-up comedy DVD:
And then there's former Leno intern Ross Matthews, who made a name for himself with his flamboyant field reports for Leno's Tonight Show and working the red carpet. Ross had moved over to The Insider, but recently wasn't getting as much air time there. Don't be surprised to see as much Ross as Leno will allow.