Leno's return: Strong ratings, so-so reviews

Jeff Bercovici

Thanks to a powerful promotional push and a serendipitous bit of booking, more than 17 million viewers tuned in last night to observe Jay Leno's prime time debut. If critics' reactions are any guide, quite a few of those 10 million went to bed underwhelmed.

The Jay Leno Show represents a new strategy for NBC, one aimed at minimizing overhead rather than maximizing ad revenues. The premiere episode reflected that lack of ambition. For all the talk about how it's a bold experiment that could change the face of network television, the program was little more than The Tonight Show transplanted to 10 p.m., full of reheated gags about Dick Cheney, reality TV and erectile-dysfunction drugs. (What, no O.J.?)