BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Jay Leno says it's been easy to lure Francis Ford Coppola, Laurence Fishburne and other famous folks to his new car-centric TV show.
All he has to do is assure them that "Jay Leno's Garage," debuting at 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday on CNBC, won't veer off the road.
"We say, 'We're not gonna talk about show business or your career, we're just going to talk about cars,'" according to Leno. The usual response, he said: "Great!"
The Detroit-born Coppola, for example, is a car enthusiast, with his 1988 movie about an independent automaker, "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," just one indication of that.
And there's this fun fact: Coppola's musician-father, Carmine, worked on "The Ford Sunday Evening Hour," a radio series sponsored by automaker Ford. In an "old Italian custom of the day, you named your son after your employer," Leno said, hence the filmmaker's middle name.
Another guest, Keanu Reeves, is a known gearhead with a start-up motorcycle company, giving Leno a chance to test the bike and hear about the actor's business plans.
Despite the celebrities sprinkled into each episode, Leno said, the show isn't designed as a star vehicle.
"It's mostly about interesting people and their relationship with automobiles, be it a love story or one about the first female drag racer," he said.
The series also will look at the past and future of automobiles and showcase Leno's famed and extensive car collection. Car buffs, prepare to drool: On the electric side alone, he owns a 1909 Baker that can travel 80 miles on a charge and a Tesla with a 300-mile range.
A more tech-centric version of "Jay Leno's Garage" began on YouTube about a decade ago, becoming so popular that Leno decided it was ready for prime time. The rocky moments of his tenure as "Tonight Show" host (he had the job, then he didn't, then he did again) had no effect on his returning to the NBC corporate fold.
CNBC simply is a good fit for "Jay's Leno Garage," he said, with the right demographic. Or as he more colorfully put it, "it's not housewives yelling at each other."
Despite professing his loyalty to NBC, he couldn't resist taking a dig at the company when he talking to a TV critics' meeting in August. Discussing an episode in which he goes for a 100 mph-plus ride in a self-driving car, Leno quipped, "NBC has been trying to kill me for years."
It's obvious that Leno, unlike his guests, has no qualms about going off topic. He's clearly glad to give a shout-out to his wife, Mavis, a longtime supporter of women's rights in Afghanistan. Her focus now is bringing women and girls to the United States to get the education no longer available to them at home, he said.
He's willing to assess the current state of late-night, lauding his "Tonight" successor, Jimmy Fallon, as well as Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, who he boasts about spotting early on and bringing to "Tonight" in 2012. But he's critical of what he considers a "mean streak" in Jimmy Kimmel's comedy, including videos of kids reacting tearfully to the parental theft of Halloween candy.
As for his own career post late-night, "Jay Leno's Garage" is just a piece of a busy schedule. Leno is on an unending tour that takes him from comedy clubs to performing arts centers to shows for U.S. troops in the Middle East.
"If people want you, that's where you go," he said.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.