Jay Leno refuses to take any blame during Oprah interview

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During the whole Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno-NBC-f-cktard scandal over the past month, I always put the majority of the blame with NBC’s knuckleheaded executives. While I didn’t (and still don’t) care for Jay Leno, I thought that most of what was happening wasn’t necessarily his fault. After watching the first half of his interview with Oprah, I really don’t feel that way anymore. Leno is a douche.

What’s worse is that Leno knows he has come out the scandal looking like a douche, and he sat down with Oprah to try to explain his side of the story. Well… Leno needed some media coaching, because, in my opinion, he came across as one of the bigger hypocrites ever to achieve fame and fortune. Very little of Leno’s words were directed to or about Conan – Leno was too busy playing the victim and trying to gloss over some of his bigger d-ck moves. PopEater has some of the text of the interview:

With all eyes on Jay Leno, he sat down with Oprah Winfrey for his first interview since the blow-up over NBC’s late-night lineup. While he admits having some regrets, Leno’s deepest scars seem to stretch back to 2004 when NBC first announced Conan O’Brien would be taking over the show in 2009. “It broke my heart. It really did. I was devastated,” Leno said. “This was the job that I had always wanted and this was the only job that ever mattered in show business, to me…. It was just like, why?”

Later in the interview, Leno refused to take blame for taking away Conan’s dream. “This is an affiliate decision. Affiliates felt that the ratings were low. This was the first time in the 60-year history of ‘The Tonight Show’ that ‘The Tonight Show’ would have lost money. And that’s what it comes down to. It’s really just a matter of dollars and cents.”

Earlier this month, O’Brien walked away from the late-night institution when NBC executives announced that they wanted Leno to once again follow the local news and move O’Brien’s ‘Tonight Show’ to 12:05 a.m. ET. Leno returns to ‘The Tonight Show’ March 1.

According to Leno, NBC came to him and talked about the ratings, saying Conan and Leno were both down. NBC executives then assured him that he was a “valuable asset” and they were “75 percent sure” Conan would go for the revised plan, which would have had Leno doing a 30-minute show at 11:30 p.m. ET.

Oprah grills Leno about why he didn’t consult Conan before agreeing to the new plan. “It wasn’t my place to call Conan,” Leno said. “They made this offer to me. And I said, ‘Do you think Conan will go for this?’ And they said, ‘We’ll ask him tomorrow.’ ‘OK, let me know what happens.’ And the next thingyou know, Conan had his article in the paper and that was that.”

Blaming NBC for the late night debacle, Leno adds, “Anything they did would have been better than this… If they had come in and shot everybody. It would have been ‘Oh, people were murdered,’ but at least it would have been a two-day story. NBC could not have handled it worse.”

[From PopEater]

Here’s my biggest point about Jay Leno and his “Coco failed in the ratings, that’s why I sacked up” argument: Leno failed in the ratings too. As he admitted during the interview, The Jay Leno Show was cancelled because of ratings – and, Leno claims, because of the complaints of affiliates. So if Coco failed in the ratings, and Leno failed in the ratings, why does that mean Leno gets a second chance and Coco doesn’t?

And why doesn’t anyone – from Leno to the NBC executives – acknowledge that Leno’s 10 p.m. show was a horrible lead-in for the Tonight Show? I mean, the whole “the affiliates were unhappy” argument works just as well for Coco! After spending a few minutes with Leno, people turned off their televisions, destroying the ratings of not only local NBC evening news, but also the Tonight Show. If NBC really believed in Coco, they would have given him a chance without Leno as a God-awful lead-in. But instead, NBC executives, and Leno himself, continue to throw Coco under the bus, as if he is the sole reason for the Tonight Show’s losses.

Sorry I went off like that. The older I get, the more I realize that I could do so many of these jobs better than the chuckleheads currently running the networks. In happier news, NBC has picked up a Coco-produced drama for next fall. And Coco’s last week on the Tonight Show was his best week ever, as far as ratings go.

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45 Responses to “Jay Leno refuses to take any blame during Oprah interview”

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  1. SammyHammy says:

    They should dump both of them and just show reruns of Johnny Carson. HE was actually funny.

  2. Tazina says:

    Leno did nothing wrong. In fact he has been very accommodating during the unholy mess NBC has made of everything. Conan will move to another network.

  3. multikultiMe says:

    a disturbed conscience: the compelling need to explain oneself because one knows (if nowhere else than in one’s heart) that there was a better way to behave and yet did not.
    A “candid” talk with Oprah not only draws a crowd but also gives one the chance to clarify/rectify one’s self, without actually doing so.

  4. Phowie says:

    Now Leno comes out and says he never wanted to give up the Tonight Show and the network forced him to, he had no say in the matter whatsoever?

    The affiliates did not say they wanted to get rid of the Tonight Show with Conan, they wanted to get rid of The Jay Leno Show because it was messing with the ratings of their news braodcasts, which were the lead-in to the Tonight Show. Leno realized this and that his so-called popularity was really just linked to a good time-slot and, because he was humiliated, wanted it back. And he wraps it all up under the guise of ‘saving the 60 year history of profits for the Tonight Show’. Like Leno is the benevolent savior making the supreme sacrifice to save NBC by letting them cancel The Jay Leno Show and allow him to supplant Conan. Oh, and the whole thing is NBC’s fault for how they handled. They absolutely forbid Leno from ever saying, ‘You know guys, I had a good run, let the red-haired kid have a chance.’

  5. sayrah says:

    I heard that it was cheaper for NBC to get rid of Conan. Jay had worked out a deal where they would pay him over $100 million to end his contract.
    To be clear: I don’t like Jay either

  6. ,,,, says:

    “Anything they did would have been better than this… If they had come in and shot everybody. It would have been ‘Oh, people were murdered,’ but at least it would have been a two-day story. NBC could not have handled it worse.”

    I saw the part of the interview where he said that. I thought it was such a ridiculous and stupid statement. Then Oprah started laughing like it was the funniest thing she’d heard in months. Can someone please explain to me how that is remotely funny? I’m still at a loss.

  7. Dorothy says:

    Conan legally can’t say anything for 30 days so Jay is now taking this time to do interviews?? When Conan can’t tell his side? What an ass.

  8. snowball says:

    So Leno himself said he had five years to either raise a stink about Conan taking over or shut his mouth and go away with some dignity. NBC would have left him on the Tonight Show if he absolutely insisted on it at any point in those five years.

    I’ve gone from being neutral about Leno to really being irritated by him and it has less to do with Conan than it does with the fact that he seems like an arrogant ass.

  9. Beth says:

    I’ve only seen clips but I’m that Leno acted like he lost the 10pm show to save The Tonight Show. He’s acting like Conan was the problem, not himself.

  10. erin says:

    Phowie, right on. Leno is basically talentless and benefitted enormously from a good time slot.can’t stand him.

  11. Praise St. Angie! says:

    the only thing that surprises me about this is that it took so long for people to realize what a douche Leno really is.

    I had heard enough stories from other showbiz people to know what a jerk he is and I’m glad it’s becoming more publicly known.

  12. Mindy says:

    Is Leno a douche? Absolutely! Remember this everyone… Johnny Carson didn’t retire either! He was FORCED out by NBC. By who? NBC executives and (supposedly) Leno’s agent. Instead of being a total ass, Johnny left, knowing that he had the greatest run on a talk in TV history. Leno should have followed his lead and graciously bowed out. Go back to stand up (that is if anyone really thinks he’s funny). During the first late night shake up between Carson, Leno & Letterman, I was willing to believe that Leno was a stooge… that it had nothing to do with him personally and that he was a decent individual. After this? I think he’s shown what a total asshole he is.

  13. Jazz says:

    Letterman must be getting a sense of deja vu. If Leno didn’t want to leave, he had several years to tell NBC that. He could of got another gig somewhere else and let Conan make a success of the Tonight Show. Conan would of done well if Leno didn’t have his show failing and sucking the ratings out of the shows that followed. Leno’s had 17 years there, time to gracefully step aside and let someone else have a go.

  14. ses says:

    I thought Jay CHOSE not to renew his contract in 2004, thus NBC securing Conan as his replacement when Jay’s contract (voluntarily) expired in 2009. Hearing him say he was “devastated” and asking “whyyyyy?” makes it seem like evil NBC execs swooped in and stole the show out from under his feet.

    Did I make the contract thing up or did anyone else see this in the media spin cycle somewhere along the line?

  15. JohnnieR says:

    Personally, I don’t find Leno OR O’Brien even remotely funny or entertaining. Conan The NBCbarian WAS unique and wonky at the very beginning, but I quickly tired of him.

    I miss Johnny Carson…man, I’m really carbon-dating myself here! Johnny had class and style…smooooth.

  16. lucy2 says:

    I still agree that the execs are mainly to blame, but Leno didn’t help the situation any, and continues to dig his hole deeper. Playing the victim in all this will not win back any support he’s lost.
    He has always been the bigger asset to NBC, so this idea of him being forced out for Conan doesn’t hold water with me. And at any time, he could have said no about leaving the Tonight Show, or he could have agreed to leave and said no to the 10 pm show (that he himself said he didn’t think would work).
    I heard his payout would have been $150 mil, roughly 5X what Conan got.

  17. Jorja says:

    I am a Letterman fan, let me state that first and foremost. I do flip between channels sometimes to see who’s funnier but I usually settle in with Dave. I only watched the interview to see if Leno would say anything interesting. What I saw was a man who was offered back the job that he loved in the time slot he loved and he took it. He does not have to take a stand and go to bat for Conan, he does not have to walk away if he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t even have to feel sorry for Conan O’Brien’s dream being destroyed. Management makes these decisions not employees. If Leno had any real power he never would have left the Tonight Show/time slot to begin with. Jay wants to work. He’s going to take what they offer him. Conan got $40 million and in this depressed economy where so many are unemployed and some nearly destitute, I would guess that ANYBODY would LOVE to be fired and compensated with $40 million. Where I come from $40 mil says you’re set for life. Conan is an intelligent, funny guy who will find a better vehicle for his comedy. Does it hurt your feelings to be fired? Is it humiliating? Does it make you want to blame someone? YESYESYES!! The demonization of Jay Leno has more to do with the high rate of unemployment in our country and people feeling Conan’s pain than the fact that Jay is a bad guy. In six months time, Conan will be back at work funnier than ever; Jay will be happy and peace will reign over the land once again.

  18. hmm says:

    Jay never discusses the fact that it took him 18 months to win the ratings war when he took over the Tonight Show. All this interview showed was that Jay is a classless idiot who thinks he is more important than everyone else. He has done scuzzy things in the past (ask Letterman and Arsenio) and everyone was fooled by that silly grin but now the truth is more widely known.

  19. oxa says:

    Bottom Line is that NBC is in “Show Business” and were losing money so they made a decision based on numbers of affiliates wanting to dump Conan. It could have gone the other way with Leno out on his ear but it didnt. NBC in making that decision offered a deal where Conan would share the time slotand his people would still have their jobs. Conan chose to open his mouth screwing NBC & his CREW.

  20. Jess says:

    Leno and the NBC execs are both douches. And Leno’s been a douche for years. I’m glad it’s finally become obvious to everyone.

  21. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    @,,,,: I can’t read her mind, but I chuckled when I read that statement because it was such a patently ridiculous thing to say. Willy Loman couldn’t get his old job back, but this man did and he’s still playing the wounded angel. Of course NBC screwed the pooch on this, but you would think that a person who is a professional in the field of ‘talking’ would be able to come across as less transparent and disingenuous–at least in that moment, I don’t know what the rest of the talk was like. Still, I think this proves that he does have a lot of power because who else could get away with saying that type of stuff about his company and still keep a position, let alone make millions? J’accuse? Oh, pfft, whatever.

  22. atticus says:

    It’s a fair point, I suppose, to say that Leno didn’t owe Conan anything and didn’t have to go to bat for him. That said, it truly shows what a douche Leno is. If he were a stand up guy (not in the comedic sense but as in a good person) he would have said, you know what, you guys are doing to Conan exactly what you did to Johnny when I took over – Johnny gave me my shot, thanks to him I had a great run, now it’s Conan’s turn – thanks for offering to take me back but you guys are dicks for even suggesting it, so I’m leaving. My show failed, too…I should walk.

    Also, the argument Leno made about not wanting to put 145 people out of work if he left…what about the 145 people that work for Conan, if Leno stays? Again, if Leno was a good guy he would have done what Conan did – fight the good fight and make sure his crew got paid out well. It’s a stupid argument that just deflects the blame.

    Finally – as Hmmm said, it took Leno 18 months to get his footing when he took over. And that was without Carson taking a primetime show right before his!! Can you imagine if Carson had a 10 PM show? No one would have watched Leno.

    I think it’s utter BS that Conan isn’t allowed to do any interviews or make any statements for 30 days but Leno can go on Oprah. WTF. Make them both shut up for 30 days. It’s the only fair thing to do. But then again…fair isn’t a word NBC is familiar with.

    Conan got in his digs and zingers but in the end, he left on a really high note. What he said on his last show, about not being cynical and looking for the bright side, says it all about his character. Comedy Central should launch a late night show, right after Daily Show and Colbert Report. Talk about a perfect lead-in for Conan.

  23. Skins says:

    What really bugs me is all the badmouthing of NBC. This company paid him riduculous amounts of money for year after year, yet he continually rips them like this whole thing is their fault. If NBC is so bad, why didn’t he just leave?

  24. Jorja says:

    Leno to Conan: “You’re taking this very personal. …this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.”

    Sonny Corleone, The Godfather

  25. trish says:

    I think Oprah came off as the bad guy in the interview.
    She should just climb inder a rock and stay there.

  26. Joanne says:

    I thought Oprah was combative and Bitchy the whole time.. terrible interview… I am so done with her… I do like Leno and think why should he retire if he doesn’t want to… but I enjoy Conan too…. I think that sophmoric dude that used to date Sarah Silverman is such a douche… another Tom Green or Jackass show guy… no talent at all..

  27. EMV says:

    Conan will go to another network and all will be well again for Conan fans EXCEPT that all of Conan’s skits are owned by NBC! BOOO that sucks, so hopefully whoever the network is,rumored Fox, I’m sure Conan will have even better material and will live happily ever after. NBC will get theirs.

  28. LayLow says:

    NOT funny.


  29. fizXgirl314 says:

    man I am so lost with this story… why is it his fault again? I guess I haven’t really been keeping up… but I LOOOOOOVE Leno… my ex was really into him so I got into him as well.. we’ve seen him live a few things… really great and funny guy, down to earth and quite the workaholic… he does these weekly stand up shows for a small audience even though he REALLY doesn’t have to…

  30. Aspie says:

    Team Conan all the way!

    He’s always been my absolute favorite out of all of the late night comedian shows, far funnier to me than Letterman and Leno combined!

    I hope ratings continue to sag on the Tonight Show when Leno starts so maybe they’ll ask for Conan back! We can hope. 🙂

  31. Aspie says:

    @ Trish, how is Oprah the bad guy in this interview? All she did was ask the questions to Leno. If your such an Oprah hater, then don’t watch her show.

    It just amazes me how much people love to diss Oprah yet they continuously support her show by watching her exclusive interviews with big time celebrities.

  32. emma says:

    so leno is saying that conan and nbc forced him to retire years ago. that’s rich, considering the fact that he and his manager basically forced johnny carson to retire. and then he said that he told a white lie years ago when he announced that he wanted to retire and that he intended to continue to work. well, someone should get leno a dictionary, cause he obviously doesn’t know the definition of a white lie.

    both nbc and leno are douches. it’s not like leno didn’t have a choice. no one forced him to take the show back. he could have walked joined another network. leno is selfish, at least conan showed that he cared about his fellow late night host (jimmy fallon and carson daly).

    i don’t understand why leno is given a second chance when he failed as well. they’re saying that the affiliates weren’t happy with the ratings, but the affiliates weren’t happy with leno’s ratings. also if leno knew that the 10 pm slot wasn’t going to pan out (and really, who except for the executives didn’t know that), why take the job?

    conan might have low ratings now, but it’s not like leno didn’t have low ratings when he first started out. did he forget? leno has low ratings now, but he gets rewarded with the tonight show.

    nbc is always choosing leno. they choose him over carson, letterman, and now conan. maybe when leno was hiding in the closet eavesdropping on executives, he heard something good and now has something over nbc executives.

    i never caught the jay leno show, but i’ve seen his tonight show sometimes. i won’t be able to watch the tonight show when he retakes it in march or whenever. i just can’t watch him anymore. but i’ll follow coco where ever he will go.

    i hate the fact that coco can’t tell his side of the story (for awhile anyways), while leno can.

    anyone interested in the drama back in the day between letterman and leno read this http://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/30/magazine/behind-the-headlines-in-the-leno-letterman-war.html?pagewanted=1

  33. emma says:

    leno said he didn’t want to leave his staff out a job. well, what about conan’s staff? what all the prime time shows that weren’t picked up for the 10 pm time slot to make room for his show?

  34. Dani says:

    i have a valid question about all this..

    quoted: “This is an affiliate decision. Affiliates felt that the ratings were low. This was the first time in the 60-year history of ‘The Tonight Show’ that ‘The Tonight Show’ would have lost money. And that’s what it comes down to. It’s really just a matter of dollars and cents.”

    Jay Leno did horrible in the ratings for what, the first two years? Then he found an audience and became number one.

    So how is this the “first time in history the Tonight Show lost money” if Leno did horrible in the beginning too? Wouldn’t they have lost money then too? It makes no sense to me. How did NBC lose money when Conans ratings were down [for 7 months] but not when Jays were down for the first 2 YEARS?

    Is it true this is the first time TTS lost money in history [which I doubt] or is Jay just lying to cover his own ass? Any light shed on this question would be appreciated.

  35. Jeannie Jackson says:

    The first time I saw Oprah doing an interview with Leno at his studio, she acted like a school girl with a crush, had a black leather miniskirt on, and was very–well, I’ve never seen her so worried about saying the wrong thing.

    This time, she acted like a school Principal, scolding naughty-boy Leno. I kept hoping he would say, “Well, why did you get millions to vote for a man that has to kill one healthy American in Afghanistan every day that he is in office?” In this case, I think Oprah acted like the toad.

  36. Anise says:

    I’m sorry, but it’s just way too easy to kick at Jay Leno. NBC made a terrible non-decision many years ago, which is that they didn’t choose between two talents they had on contract: Leno and Conan. They should have chosen their man and put 100% of their support behind their Tonight Show host–whoever it was. I hear a lot about how Leno should have “bowed out” for Conan’s sake. When was the last time you heard of a leading lady actress “bowing out” to another talent for the role of a lifetime (comparable to Tonight Show host for a comic)? This is a business, full of competitive people. Critics are better off just pointing out that Conan is funnier (which he is) rather than trying to make Leno look like some huge villain.

  37. Anise says:

    For Dani — you raise an excellent question, but the transitions can’t be compared. Leno took over the Tonight Show in the early 90s, before cable and especially new media (mostly the Internet) completely transformed network TV. People do not watch the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) the way they once did.

    All the networks are much more reactive now. New shows get canceled all the time, sometimes after just a handful of airings. It was never going to happen that in 2009, Conan was going to get as much time as Leno did in the early 90s to develop an audience. It’s frustrating, because I’m sure a lot of new shows that could become classics get canned right out of the gate, but that’s the reality right now, and Conan is living under a rock if he expected to get years to take off.

  38. emma says:

    when was the last time someone bowed out for new talent? how about when carson retired? leno’s manager basically forced johnny to quit when she spread rumors about nbc wanting leno to replace carson cause he was getting older. because of the hype, leno was getting all these offers from other networks, so nbc was afraid of losing leno, they signed him to take over the tonight show when carson would retire. this whole time, carson has never announced to the public or nbc that he would retire. carson wanted letterman to take over not leno. he was displeased with the network, so carson announced his retirement to the public before he told the nbc. so yeah, he basically bowed out. and then the whole leno vs. letterman drama ensued. and guess who was hiding in a closet listening in on the nbc executives’ meeting – none other than the “beloved, everyday, nice guy” leno. eyeroll.

  39. Anise says:

    Oh good grief. Carson left back when journalists didn’t write about politicians cheating on their wives. It was a classier time all around. Wake up: we’re having this debate on a celebrity gossip site! Haha. I’m happy to be here, but this is no golden age in entertainment. Leno sold out, as have about 1000 other talents we come here to read about everyday. This is the entertainment industry in 2010. It’s just silly to hold him to the Carson standard. There will never be another one like him.

  40. Dani says:

    Hmm, thanks for shedding some light on my question Anise! I appreciate it.

    I completely see where you’re coming from and understand why Conan wasn’t going to get as much time as Leno did to build an audience, but I still thought he’d atleast have a year to do it. I feel so bad for him. I know he’s getting a huge payout, but it’s not about the money, TTS was his dream job since he was a kid and to have that given to you then ripped away had to really hurt him, no matter how rich he was. I lost my chance at getting my dream job that I was working towards since I was in middle school due to a long term illness, so I know how much it hurts to have your dream career broken. He’ll recover, but still, that had to really hurt him. GO COCO!

  41. emma says:

    did you not ask for an example? so i gave you one and that’s not good enough?

    the times may have changed, but leno is still the common denominator. what’s wrong with holding people up to a better standard anyways? leno should have followed his predecessor’s example. but that’s probably asking too much. there’s a reason leno is known as a back stabbing snake in the entertainment industry. he was known as that back in the days of carson and he’s still known as that today. so really, it doesn’t matter what era it is, leno would still act the same.

  42. scandoll says:

    ,,,,: I agree, I was stunned at this part of the interview! Truely shocking!!!

    “I saw the part of the interview where he said that. I thought it was such a ridiculous and stupid statement. Then Oprah started laughing like it was the funniest thing she’d heard in months. Can someone please explain to me how that is remotely funny? I’m still at a loss.”

  43. Sarah says:

    I am extremely sorry to see Leno being back in the seat where Coco belongs. He was not doing a good job the last couple of months and it’s somewhat ridiculous that he goes out of the situation as a winner. I totally agree with everything you wrote, Kaiser!!

  44. Claire says:

    I think it was unfair of Oprah to try to take the blame for a situation that someone smartly called the “unholy mess” that is NBC. This video has some perspective, especially on Oprah’s approach to the whole thing: http://bit.ly/93lJhu

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