Jay Leno ratings: How did his new prime-time show do?

The debut of the Jay Leno Show benefited from Kanye West's remorseful appearance, but many viewers were underwhelmed.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Comedian Jerry Seinfeld appears with host Jay Leno on the first episode of "The Jay Leno Show" Monday.
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The mystery is over: Jay Leno's new prime-time comedy hour debuted Monday night, garnering underwhelming reviews across the blogosphere and almost 18 million viewers. Indeed, the show closely resembled Leno's old "Tonight Show," with few of the promised new elements in sight.

About 17.7 million Americans tuned in for Leno's new show Monday, according to early numbers from Nielsen Media. Roughly 5 million used to regularly watch his old “Tonight Show.” [Story has been updated at 4:42 p.m. ET.].

Now, the $10 million question: Once the novelty has worn off, how many viewers will watch night after night? In a decidedly unscientific survey of audience response, the Monitor tuned into three demographic groups in the Los Angeles area for some insight on what the future may hold for "The Jay Leno Show."

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"I would tune in again," says Katherine Carter, a 20-something who gathered with three friends in Marina Del Rey to take in the debut. "I thought it was really funny, but some of the skits went on too long." She adds, "It was a bit slow."

Her buddy, Eva Fedderly, has stronger reactions, saying she found the new Leno show "boring, with very little to actually sink my teeth into." She elaborates: "It was bland, and everyone seemed nervous and awkward." Sacha Bollas chimes in with a bit more support for the comedian. "I like Jay," he says. "I'm glad to see him back, although," he adds with a laugh, "he still kills punch lines." The clinical psychologist adds that although he did enjoy the show, he wouldn't tune in intentionally. "I might stay with it if I found it channel-surfing," he says.

Over in Whittier, a younger group gathered in the living room of the Harris dorm on the campus of Whittier College. One student expressed surprise that Leno was still around, but a few said they were looking forward to seeing the show.

"I appreciated seeing Kanye West," says Nick Santoro, a sophomore from Boston. He questions, though, whether there is a need for yet another talk show. "Jay's had his time," he says. "Now everyone has to have a show, even [actress] Tori Spelling. Jay won't last," he predicts. "Maybe he'll outlast Tori, but not by much."

Fellow sophomore Sylvia Burn, who comes from New Orleans, says the show was kind of funny, but that everyone, guests and host, "tried way too hard." As to whether she'd tune in on any regular basis, Ms. Burn isn't sure: But "I'd probably watch Jay over 'CSI.' "

An older group of viewers watching in Sherman Oaks, on the other hand, say they would rather watch a drama at 10 p.m. than a comedy talk show.

"I want something more substantial at that hour," says Lisa Taylor, a mother of a junior-high and high schooler who rises at 5 a.m. The show didn't rise above its "Tonight Show" predecessor, she says. "It was a very run-of-the-mill talk show."

Nathalie Miller, another mom of two teens, agrees, although she gives the set designer points for a hipper, colorful stage. "It was definitely better than before," she says.

Her spouse, Scott Miller, suggests that the show's trump card – and possibly its salvation – is its ability to be topical. The show's première "obviously benefited from the amount of curiosity and buzz" around Kanye West's appearance, he says. The musician appeared on the verge of tears in an effort to apologize for interrupting fellow musician Taylor Swift's acceptance speech Monday night at the Video Music Awards. "Jay is the first in the line-up of newsy talk shows," notes Mr. Miller, "which is good for him, but I wonder how Conan O'Brien and even Jimmy Fallon are going to feel about that in the long run."

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