Leno's Return: "Same Jay, Different Desk"

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 3776 -- Pictured: Host Jay Leno on March 1, 2010 (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank via AP Images) NBCU Photo Bank via AP Images

Jay Leno's back at the helm of "The Tonight Show," and to the battle for late-night TV supremacy.

Leno returned to "Tonight" Monday, ending the disastrous NBC experiment of putting him in primetime and Conan O'Brien in his "Tonight" spot.

By the time Jay Leno walked onto the "Tonight Show" stage with a spoof of Judy Garland's famous line as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," -- "There's no place like home!" -- it was, says CBS News Correspondent Ben Tracy, almost as if he'd never left.

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"I'm a little bit nervous," Leno joked. "Not because it's my first night back. Because I know Dave (late-night rival David Letterman) and Oprah (Winfrey) are watching!"

Critics say the "Tonight" "sequel" played a lot like the original version.

"It's the same 'Tonight Show,' with the same Jay and a different desk," observes TV Guide Senior Editor William Keck.

On his show, Letterman kidded, "My name is David Letterman, same time, same host."

"Now, it comes down to the jokes. It comes down to who's going to do the funnier Tiger Woods jokes," Keck says.

Leno wasted no time on those, saying, "Gatorade has officially ended their relationship with Tiger Woods. Apparently, he was seeing at least five other sports drinks."

Leno's act may not have changed, notes Tracy, but his first place status has: NBC lost half of the "Tonight Show" 's ratings when they moved Leno out. Now, Letterman is number one."

"Creatively," says Hollywood Reporter Senior Online Editor James Hibberd, "(Letterman) rose to the occasion, and the question is whether he can maintain that going into this new fight with Jay Leno."

Both shows are banking on big-names for an extra boost.

With the late-night race expected to be more competitive than ever, Tracy says, NBC executives can only hope the audience will tune out the drama of the past seven months and tune in for the comedy.

Leno and O'Brien got into a protracted on-air feud on their respective shows when NBC announced O'Brien was being booted off "Tonight" in favor of Leno - a feud Letterman also frequently weighed in on.
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