Leno back on Tonight

Jay Leno had been absent from the nation’s TV screens for less than a month, but he returned Monday night with renewed purpose.

Olympic gold medalist skier Lindsey Vonn

Olympic gold medalist skier Lindsey Vonn

NEW YORK — Jay Leno had been absent from the nation’s TV screens for less than a month, but he returned Monday night with renewed purpose.

“It’s good to be home,” he told his Tonight Show audience as he began his monologue, a transcript of which was provided by NBC before airtime. “I’m Jay Leno, your host. At least, for a while.”

Leno is reclaiming his old job at NBC’s Tonight Show just nine months after giving it up to Conan O’Brien, and only 19 days after NBC pulled the plug on Leno’s own prime-time misadventure.

“We were off for the last couple of weeks,” Leno cracked in his monologue. “Kind of like the Russians at the Olympics. What happened to them?”

Leno noted that one of his guests is an American gold medallist , skier Lindsey Vonn.

“Did you see her?” Leno marveled. “When it comes to going downhill, nobody is faster. OK, except NBC.”

As he zinged his own network, along with former vice-president Dick Cheney, Toyota and Tiger Woods, Leno signalled the resumption of the late-night war between him and his longtime CBS foe David Letterman, who had gained the ratings upper hand during O’Brien’s brief, unhappy stay as Tonight Show host.

NBC is praying that Leno will settle comfortably back into his Tonight Show desk chair, where he ruled late night (and beat Letterman) for much of 17 years.