Jay Leno talks ‘Tonight Show’s’ O’Brien, Letterman shake-ups

Comedian Jay Leno has spoken openly about the infamous ‘Tonight Show’ concussion and subsequent burn he inflicted on short-lived host Conan O’Brien.

Leno, who hosted “The Tonight Show” for 17 years before leaving for the first time in 2009 and unexpectedly returned the following year for another stint, denied on Sunday that he “did his 10 p.m. “The Jay Leno Show” on purpose sabotaged” he could return to NBC’s 11:30 p.m. bid.

For the record:

3:33 p.m. Aug 2, 2022Jay Leno returned to The Tonight Show in 2010, not 2019 as previously stated.

The Emmy-winner’s program change ousted his first Tonight Show follower, O’Brien, and led to the Late Night comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer bringing his talents to TBS. O’Brien has held some capacity with the Peacock Network since 1993.

But “The Jay Leno Show” was an experiment by NBC to take over the enormously expensive 10 o’clock broadcast network dramas for a fraction of the cost of production, Leno told Bill Maher on Sunday’s episode of Club Random Podcast “. ” It just didn’t go as planned.

“I was [hearing]’Oh, Leno deliberately sabotaged his show to try and get The Tonight Show [back],'” said Leno, 72. “No, you can’t. That will not do. You try to do your best and it didn’t work.”

Much back and forth of the network managers followed. Leno said NBC offered him a return to the 11:30 timeslot, but said he “didn’t want to go through that again,” especially if it meant pushing O’Brien to the midnight window — an offer that meant that Leno would do a half-hour show at 11:30 p.m. instead of his previous hour-long show.

“I said, ‘Talk to Conan. If he goes to 12, I’ll do half an hour. Just do a monologue and a guest. OK.’ And of course Conan didn’t want that. So he wrote the letter and then they put me back in and we became number 1 [in the ratings] again.”

Maher asked Leno why he didn’t just go to a competing network instead of staying with NBC after essentially “getting fired twice for being No. 1.”

“I’m pretty loyal,” Leno said. “You know, sometimes the tsar you have is better than the one you will get. And here’s the thing, then your old team will shoot you too. I figured let’s just play through this and see what happens. That all happened pretty quickly. “

Leno said he was getting offers from ABC and called the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” host. to discuss what his arrival on this network might mean for Kimmel. This step didn’t work out either, and Leno never followed suit. This drama also became public.

“I suppose I should have called Jimmy and explained it to him again, but I didn’t,” Leno said. “I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I just didn’t. I figured he would probably find out. But I think maybe he was hurt by it and I apologized to him for that.

Leno, of course, returned to the stage of “The Tonight Show” in 2010 after O’Brien left. In February 2014 he finally said goodbye to the late-night institution. Saturday Night Live star Jimmy Fallon replaced him and remains the current host. O’Brien continued to host “Conan” on TBS, where it ran for 11 seasons before ending last year. In a 2010 60 Minutes interview, O’Brien said he “wouldn’t have done” what Leno would have done if the roles had been reversed.

But Leno, who currently hosts the syndicated game show You Bet Your Life, didn’t seem impressed on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t change anything because everything went well,” he told Maher. “But at least I’ve risen and fallen by my own hand, unlike other people who move things around.”

“They dropped you for the crime of being number 1,” Maher said, amazed that NBC hadn’t milked its “money cow” for as long as possible.

Leno has dropped many names during the podcast, and didn’t shy away from the other notorious late-night outter he’s been a part of: taking over “The Tonight Show” from Johnny Carson, rather than giving the gig to heir apparent David Letterman leave. (Letterman left NBC to host rival late-night series The Late Show on CBS from 1993 to 2015.)

“Dave [Letterman] never had ‘The Tonight Show,'” Leno said, to Maher’s disbelief. “No. Here’s the situation. … Dave was a huge hit at 12:30, huge. Johnny was a huge hit at 11:30. Once I started filling in for Johnny, I was fortunate enough to maintain Johnny’s ratings So for me they had a hit at 11:30 and a hit at 12:30 and NBC didn’t want to sacrifice a hit.

“If they put Letterman down, I’d go to CBS, I’d just go somewhere else, and then they’d have a wide open space. Also, there were a lot of executives who didn’t like Dave.”

Leno said moving Letterman down the schedule would have done them no good.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-08-02/jay-leno-conan-obrien-tonight-show-sabotage Jay Leno talks ‘Tonight Show’s’ O’Brien, Letterman shake-ups

Sarah Ridley

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