Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Swap opens possibilities for NBC stars


Turns out that Katie Couric and Jay Leno aren't as different as night and day after all.

Two of NBC's brightest stars proved Monday they could adapt comfortably to each other's jobs as part of the Today show's "trading places" sweeps stunt.

Couric, dressed in a low-cut black evening dress, delivered an entertaining hour hosting the top-rated Tonight Show. She handled all the duties - even the monologue - with style, grace and just enough confidence.

The biggest surprise was how risque the award-winning newswoman was in late-night. She joked about being French-kissed by Willard Scott, colon exams, bras and showing a little cleavage.

"I thought this would be a chance for me to wear something a little more fun, a little sexier. And for all you people from L.A. who have never seen them before, these are actually real," she said, pointing to her chest.

Couric received a huge assist from Leno's writers. She showed viewers how Leno gets that black streak in his gray hair ("Just for Skunks" hair tint); the new Matt Lauer Chia Pet; and an Al Roker workout video. Dr. Phil McGraw, Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, Nathan Lane and Tom Brokaw also appeared in bits.

Her only serious interview was with actor Mike Myers. She barely spoke to American Idol judge Simon Cowell before launching into a Idol parody in which she played Paula Abdul.

Earlier, Leno also performed capably as a Today co-host. He interviewed Secretary of State Colin Powell by satellite and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani - while resisting one-liners. Producers opted to hand the celebrity interviews (American Idol's Josh Gracin, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joyce DeWitt) to Today regulars.

The comedian asked Powell good questions about Mideast peace talks and his relationship with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"Don and I get along fine. We argue our views out... so one person (President Bush) can form his views," Powell said.

Leno couldn't resist talking to Powell briefly about cars. And he opened with Giuliani by asking about plans for his May 24 wedding. But mostly, Leno injected laughs between segments. When seated between Lauer and Roker, he joked: "This looks like a bad Pep Boys commercial."

As predicted by Couric, Leno looked very ill at ease - more uncomfortable than Couric displayed on his show - when he read from the TelePrompter.

The biggest treat for Leno was driving Mini Cooper cars from The Italian Job movie in Rockefeller Plaza. After skidding through tight U-turns, he shouted: "I love the Today show!"

I'm sure Couric and Leno fans loved the swap. It was fun to watch.

TV today: Cast members are interviewed for Biography: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (8 p.m., A&E).

The Secret Service searches for the president's daughter on The West Wing season finale (9 p.m., Channels 5, 22).

A sniper terrorizes Law & Order (10 p.m., Channels 5, 22).

Talk shows: Today's guests:

Regis and Kelly (9 a.m., Channel 9): Jenna Morasca (Survivor).

Wayne Brady (10 a.m., Channel 9): John Spencer.

The View (11 a.m., Channel 9): George Lopez.

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