In almost two weeks, comedian Jay Leno will be making his debut on a live comedy show to air at 10 pm. Not content to rest on his laurels, Jay Leno has been in intensive preparatiosn for his new show on NBC - running four miles a day, testing jokes at stand-up comedy venues and getting to the studio as early as 8 am - nearly one hour before anyone else - to tweak the design of his new set. Reflecting on a recent feature of Jay Leno in the Wall Street Journal, it's clear that there's a lot that Mr. Leno can teach the Fortune 500 about innovation:
(1) Understand who your core audience is. Jay Leno isn't trying to be anyone he's not -- and he's not about to alienate his long-time loyal fans with edgier jokes in prime time. In fact, he's more than content to make jokes about cats and TV remote controls, and not stray too far from his core comedic repertoire to make jokes about politics or ethnic groups. He's not trying to become Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.
(2) Don't be afraid to challenge assumptions about what works. After decades perfecting his late night routine, Leno found that live musical acts don't attract TV audiences. For his new show, he's planning to limit live acts to 1-2 times per week. To replace these live musical acts, Leno plans to have celebrity guests race cars around a custom-built track.
(3) Don't drink your own Kool-Aid. Leno may be a celebrity, but he's managed to keep it real. In fact, he's not terribly infatuated with the world of celebrity. Part of the reason why he's using the car-racing track is because he's figured out that there's some celebrities that we want to see, but don't particularly want to hear from.
(4) No matter how innovative you are, keep an eye on bottom line fundamentals. Mr. Leno may make $30 million in annual salary from NBC, but he's conservative in his financial dealings. He lives off his earnings from doing stand-up and banks his NBC salary: "It keeps your head straight. In TV they can fire your a** at any minute for whatever reason... OK, I'll be in Vegas."
Looking forward to September 14th -- if things go smoothly, Mr. Leno's segue to prime time may change the way broadcast and cable television networks go about programming their prime time TV shows.
[image: Mr. Leno, 1970s - 2009 via Wall Street Journal)