Leno Interviewed On Oprah Winfrey Show - January 28, 2010
Jay Leno appeared on Oprah’s show this week with his first interview about all the late night mess. Interesting interview. Jay said that an NBC executive came to him five years ago and asked him to leave The Tonight Show because Conan was getting offers form other networks. NBC didn’t want Conan to leave and Jay said he was heartbroken to be pushed out especially when he was number one. He said that if he wasn’t number one anymore, that would be a different story. He admitted that it was a white lie that he told about retiring completely cause he knew he’d get another job or go to another network. Leno talked of how NBC ended the show seven months earlier than his contract was set to expire keeping him from going anywhere else. He was pitched the idea of the primetime show by NBC in fall of 2008. Leno asked about whether he could keep his staff and all adding that they were family to him and NBC said yes. So, Leno said “ok, let’s try it”. He did admit that he felt insulted by the network to basically be fired when he was number one and that The Tonight Show was “paradise” for him cause it was so fun and easy. Oprah asked if Leno thought Conan had what it took to be the host and Leno said yes adding how great of a team that they had been over the years. Each had been number one and it was amazing to him that both of them ended up falling from number one. Leno took full responsibility for the primetime show failing saying that it just didn’t work out. He did discuss how other networks would boycott his show not allowing their actors to come on his show because of how the competition was. Leno said that definitely hurt his show but he wasn’t using that as an excuse and also how he was given enough time to build an audience and it just didn’t happen. Oprah asked him the question of how many criticized him for taking up five hours of TV a week which put a lot of people out of work cause there was five hours of programming taken off of NBC during the week. Leno answered that he had honestly not even thought about that until they were on the air and understood their point. When the cancellation happened, he said it was the second time he had been fired but this one made sense cause his numbers weren’t good. He asked if he could be released from his contract and they said no because he was still a valuable asset. NBC then told of their plan to move Conan back thirty minutes and place Leno back at his old time slot. Leno said that he would do it and asked the NBC executive if Conan would react well to it. The executive told him “oh yeah” in a simple kind of tone and Leno told the executive to let him know how it worked out. The next day was when Conan’s reaction was released to the media. He talked of the other comedians ripping on him. He said that he could have edited the Kimmel segment where he took shots but he said that he didn’t feel that it should be edited. Oprah asked about the shot that he took at Letterman over infidelity and defended it. He said that Letterman fired one personal shot at him and he fired one back and then moved on. When asked if NBC could have handled this all better, Leno joked that they all could have come in and shot people and it would have been handled better than how they did it. Leno said that he knew this was a numbers problem with ratings and the affiliates were the ones calling for the show to go. He said he personally called the president of the affiliates to apologize. Leno said that he did feel bad for Conan and hoped that Conan got another job so they could all compete against one another. Then, let the best man win. He has not talked to Conan but would like to in the future but just feels right now isn’t appropriate. Leno does realize that there is a lot of work to do with The Tonight Show and damage control to be done. Oprah did say that she was surprised at the reaction to Leno saying that she didn’t think people understand the TV business. They both said that it would have been different if Leno had owned the show but that it was a network show. She asked about him just walking away instead of returning and he felt it would be an “ego decision” to just walk away. He said that anyone would want that job. It was an interesting interview to get his point of view on it. He seemed very open and honest. She did invite Conan to sit down with her as well but had been turned down for now saying it just wasn’t the right time.