Jay Leno was interviewed on a special edition of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show last Thursday. Jay was questioned about whether taking The Tonight Show back is the right thing to do, and what he thought about the whole NBC mess with Conan O’Brien walking off the job after refusing to move to 12.05am to follow The Jay Leno Show which NBC planned to air at 11.35pm. You can read the interview transcript on Oprah’s official website.
Speaking about The Jay Leno Show, Oprah asked “was it against your better judgment to do the primetime show?” he said “well, I chose to do it, so I take full responsibility… I did it because it’s an interesting challenge”. The Jay Leno Show’s ratings were the main reason for its cancellation – Jay said “I felt bad for everybody on the show, and I felt bad for our affiliates”.
Talking about when NBC approached Leno about the move back to 11.35pm he said “it would still be The Jay Leno Show, and I would still do a monologue and a comedy piece, and I thought: “Okay, I’ll do a half hour at 11:30. Conan will do an hour.” And I remember saying to one of the executives, “Do you think Conan will go for that?” “Oh yeah, no problem. We are 75 percent sure Conan will take this deal.” I said okay, [and] shake hands. Again, I’m not a big contract guy. I shake hands. I’ll do a half hour, Conan will take an hour, we’ll see what happens”.
When asked about his thoughts on The Tonight Show and the effects on the ratings after Conan O’Brien took over, he said “if you look at where the ratings were, it was already destructive to the franchise”. Jay revealed he hasn’t yet spoken to Conan since the debacle – “maybe let things cool down and maybe we’ll talk”. But he said he watched Conan’s final Tonight Show saying it was a “great show, good performer and good comic. And a good guy. There’s no animosity there”.
Oprah asked him if NBC could have done anything differently to have made it good for everyone involved – Jay said “anything they did would have been better than this. Anything. Anything they did. If they had come in and shot everybody. I mean, it would have been, “Oh, people were murdered.” But at least it would have been a two-day story. … From 2004 onward, this whole thing was a huge, a huge mess”.
“I regret that it wasn’t handled better… I’m just not sure what I could have done differently… the key is not to be bitter”, he said.
The final episode of The Jay Leno Show airs on the 9th February and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno returns on the 1st March.
Oprah.com – “The Tonight Show Controversy”
Oprah.com – “Jay Leno on Conan O’Brien’s Last Show Video” (video clip)
Oprah.com – “Jay Leno 10 @ 10 Video” (video clip)
Oprah.com – “Oprah Talks About the Tonight Show Video” (video clip)