With Jay Leno on the West Coast and Jane Pauley in the East, "The Tonight Show" tries its first live telecast in recent memory Monday night.

For Leno, at least, it's going to be a party.

"Maybe we'll try a New Year's kiss, sort of coaxially," Leno joked.

While Pauley presides over her end of the telecast, Phil Hartman of "Saturday Night Live," B.B. King, Peter Pitofsky and Dwight Yoakam will help Leno celebrate in Burbank.

"We told people if they wanted to come they'd have to be dressed, like a regular party, so no tee-shirts and stuff," he said. "We'll be in the audience a lot -- we're pretty much going to play it by ear. We'll be doing comedy."

Comedy, of course, is what Jay Leno does best. He does it so well, in fact, that he's become the "permanent guest host" of Johnny Carson's show, which still is titled "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," even if Leno hosts.

So when is Carson going to turn the show over to Leno?

"Roughly when Princess Margaret ascends the throne," Leno laughed.

Meanwhile, Leno spends some 250 nights on the road entertaining Americans in various venues, live and in person.

"Personal communication is so lost in America that this is the only place you can do one-on-one," he observed.

"I used to feel guilty when I walked on stage in Vegas and didn't have lights and lasers, but then people would come up and say how much they enjoyed just being talked to. People are so used to being lip-synched and tech-ed out that they think it's amazing that people {performers} can do things by themselves. I think you need that communication. That's why I like comedy -- it's real low tech."

His insistence on personal communication, he said, is also "why I don't do videos or records or tapes. We live in a society where people rent a movie and watch it by themselves on a 13-inch screen and then they say, 'I didn't think that was very funny.' But there were no people around. It's the difference between standing outside a club and listening to the jokes or coming inside and laughing with the other people."

When Leno and his wife, Mavis, went to entertain American troops in Saudi Arabia over Thanksgiving weekend, he was "helicoptered out to the remote parts where all the tank battalions were. I didn't even have a mike. I just stood up on a tank."

Visiting 20 remote sites over four days, he gave impromptu shows for as few as 20 and as many as 250 soldiers.

Knowing he would be performing alone, Leno said he considered whether he should add some raunch to his repertoire. But he said the soldiers appreciated his humor as it was, laughed at his topical jokes and seemed more interested in knowing what was happening back home.

"It's different from when I was a kid and there was Vietnam," he said. "First of all, they're all volunteers and they're all high school graduates. There's a difference in the attitude. For example, these guys generally seem concerned about how the Saudis treat the women, not letting them drive and so forth. They generally feel it's sexist, that it's unfair. There's a certain egalitarianism now."

Leno's live telecast New Year's Eve will include remotes from New York, where people representing other networks will also watch the glittering ball drop at Times Square beginning at 11:30.

Ageless Dick Clark will be on hand until 1 a.m. for his annual "Rockin' New Year's Eve'" with Nina Blackwood ("Entertainment Tonight") and Jack Wagner ("General Hospital") reporting from Vertigo, a Hollywood night spot. Performers include the Beach Boys, Bell Biv Devoe, the Kentucky HeadHunters, Nelson (Rick's twin sons Matthew and Gunnar), The O'Jays and Sweet Sensation.

Melissa Manchester will host CBS' "Happy New Year America 1991," with Terry Bradshaw doing the countdown at Times Square (with performances from the Tony Award-winning musical "Black and Blue") and Mark McEwen and Miss USA, Carole Gist, reporting on celebrations from New York's Palladium and Stringfellows clubs. Performers include James Ingram and Kid Creole and the Coconuts at the Waldorf Astoria, and Eddie Rabbitt, Lorrie Morgan and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performing to "Great Balls of Fire" from the dance floor of Billy Bob's Texas, Fort Worth.

Locally, WFTY schedules "Sound Check II," a New Year's holiday rock music special beginning at 11 and hosted by Christina Applegate and Eric Winter.

For the more sedate, WETA and MPT carry the New York Philharmonic's New Year's Eve Gala at 8, but only for two hours; WNVT (Channel 53) will air "The Lawrence Welk Show" New Year edition at 10, but only for an hour. Maryland Public Television, which once had a short fling as telecaster of Baltimore's New Year's Eve celebration, slates an oldie, "Glenn Miller: A Moonlight Serenade," at 11:30.

There's one more option: After the parades and college football bowls on Tuesday, New Year's Day, you can tune in to PBS at 8 for "From Vienna: The New Year's Celebration 1991, hosted by Walter Cronkite. Claudio Abbado conducts the Vienna Philharmonic from the Golden Hall of that city's historic Musikverein.