NBC always feared that cutting Jay Leno loose would drive him into the arms of a competitor. So the network must be breathing a small sigh of relief to see his next show simply indulge his impulses as a hobbyist, taking “Jay Leno’s Garage” to its sister network, CNBC. Leno’s passion for cars (and his airplane hangar full of them) is well known, and he uses that as an excuse to kibitz with like-minded pals, and drive way-cool vehicles. Still, in terms of anything that would draw attention away from his old gig, it’s a decidedly low-emission ride.
Although this eight-episode lark, which started as a YouTube series, is essentially just the latest in a number of boys-and-their-toys shows that roll off the assembly line at channels like Discovery, Leno brings a genial comic flair to the proceedings. The producers also try to pad out the hour with some automotive history, which, in the opener devoted to muscle cars, explains how they came into vogue, including old commercials and a discussion of legendary designers like Carroll Shelby.
All that’s really just cover, though, for Leno and other celebrities to go out and drive fast. In the premiere, for example, he’s joined by Tim Allen, whose “more power” mantra from “Home Improvement” translates here into more horsepower.
Given what it costs to collect cars, “Leno’s Garage” parked on the right network. Perhaps most interestingly, with the announcement that David Letterman will produce a National Geographic Channel program about climate change, the two former late-night titans have both migrated to the narrower fields of basic cable. And appropriately enough, one has a show devoted to saving the environment, while the other dabbles in an industry known for polluting it.
Leno actually serves notice that this “Garage” is strictly aimed at those who share his interests, saying during the narration, “Why do people like to do burnouts? Look, if you don’t know, stop watching the show right now, all right?” For those who don’t spend a lot of time watching such fare or tearing up pavement, that’s a pretty attractive invitation.