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

Comic Jay Leno has opened up concerning the notorious “Tonight Show” shake-up and subsequent burn he inflicted on short-lived host Conan O’Brien.

Leno, who hosted “The Tonight Show” for 17 years earlier than departing for the primary time in 2009, then unexpectedly returned for one more stint the next yr, denied Sunday that he had “deliberately sabotaged” his 10 p.m. “The Jay Leno Show” so he might return to NBC’s 11:30 p.m. providing.

For the report:

3:33 p.m. Aug. 2, 2022Jay Leno returned to “The Tonight Show” in 2010, not in 2019 as beforehand acknowledged.

The Emmy Award winner’s schedule swap infamously ousted his first “Tonight Show” successor, O’Brien, and led to the “Late Night” comic and former “Saturday Night Live” author taking his abilities over to TBS. O’Brien had labored on the Peacock community in some capability since 1993.

However “The Jay Leno Show” was an experiment by NBC to tackle the massively costly broadcast-network dramas within the 10 o’clock hour for a fraction of the manufacturing value, Leno instructed Invoice Maher on Sunday’s episode of “Club Random Podcast.” It simply didn’t pan out as deliberate.

“I was [hearing], ‘Oh, Leno deliberately sabotaged his show to try and get “The Tonight Show” [back],’” stated Leno, 72. “No, that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work that way. You try and do the best you can and it didn’t work.”

A variety of community government back-and-forth ensued. Leno stated NBC provided him a return to the 11:30 time slot however he stated he “didn’t want to go through this again,” particularly if it meant bumping O’Brien to the midnight slot — a proposal that meant Leno would do a half-hour present at 11:30 p.m. as a substitute of his earlier one-hour present.

“I said, ‘Talk to Conan. If he’ll go to 12, I’ll do a half-hour. Just do a monologue and one guest. OK.’ And of course Conan didn’t want to do that. That’s when he wrote the letter and then they put me back in and we became No. 1 [in the ratings] again.”

Maher requested Leno why he didn’t simply go to a rival community as a substitute of sticking round at NBC after basically being “fired twice for being No. 1.”

“I’m pretty loyal,” Leno stated. “You know, sometimes the czar you have is better than the one you’re going to get. And here’s the thing, then you have your old team shooting at you as well. I just figured, let’s just play this out and see what happens. This all happened fairly quickly. “

Leno said that he was getting offers from ABC and called up the host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to debate what his arrival at that community may imply for Kimmel. That transfer didn’t pan out both, and Leno by no means adopted up. That drama grew to become public too.

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

Leno, in fact, returned to “The Tonight Show” stage in 2010 after O’Brien left. He finally bid farewell to the late-night establishment for good in February 2014. “Saturday Night Live” star Jimmy Fallon changed him and stays the present host. O’Brien went on to host “Conan” on TBS, the place it ran for 11 seasons earlier than concluding final yr. In a 2010 “60 Minutes” interview, O’Brien stated he “wouldn’t have done” what Leno did if the roles had been reversed.

However Leno, who at present hosts the syndicated recreation present “You Bet Your Life,” didn’t appear fazed on Sunday.

“I wouldn’t change anything ’cause it all worked out fine,” he instructed Maher. “But at least I rose and fell by my own hand as opposed to other people moving things around.”

“They felled you for the crime of being No. 1,” Maher stated, astonished that NBC didn’t milk its “cash cow” for so long as it might.

Leno did loads of name-dropping through the podcast and didn’t draw back from the opposite notorious late-night ouster he was concerned in: Taking up “The Tonight Show” from Johnny Carson fairly than letting inheritor obvious David Letterman get the gig. (Letterman left NBC over the transfer to host the competing late-night sequence “The Late Show” on CBS from 1993 to 2015.)

“Dave [Letterman] never had ‘The Tonight Show,’” Leno stated, 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. When I started subbing for Johnny, I was lucky enough to be able to maintain Johnny’s ratings. So with me there they had a hit at 11:30 and a hit at 12:30. And NBC did not want to sacrifice one hit.

“If they moved Letterman down, I would go to CBS, I would just go somewhere else, and then they would have a wide open spot. Plus, there were a lot of executives that did not like Dave.”

Leno stated that transferring Letterman down on the schedule “wouldn’t have gained them anything.”