The former and soon to be host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno, went on The Oprah Show today to discuss the NBC debacle that took him off the late night show he hosted for 15 years, only to give it back to him the other week.
Jay — who seemed so business like and matter of fact — says that when NBC went to him in 2004 and said they would replace him with Conan O’Brien in five years, “It broke my heart. I was really devastated. I always assumed that as long as you keep your show number one, you will be number one.”
Jay appealed to the millions of viewers who turned against him when Conan, who came on to host The Tonight Show, was then asked to push the show back an hour when his ratings were poor. “I never expected this to happen,” Jay said of NBC offering him The Tonight Show back.
Humbly, Jay reveals that he expected his hour-long variety show would be cancelled, because he was not coming in as number one in the ratings. ”I’m a big boy. The show wasn’t working. It failed because it was a late night talk show at 10 pm, and I felt bad that it wasn’t successful.”
So when NBC said they would cancel his 10 pm variety show, they offered him a half hour at 11:35 pm — which meant NBC would move The Tonight Show to 12:05. Jay agreed.
“I asked ‘do you think Conan will go for this?’ And NBC said they were 75 percent sure Conan would go for it,” Jay told Oprah. But Conan did not go for it, which ultimately ended with NBC paying him to leave the network, and offering Jay his old job back, hosting The Tonight Show.
Oprah asked Jay, “did you think you were ruining Conan’s dream?” But ever the businessman, Jay’s response was to point out that Conan was coming in at number two. He did reiterate, however, “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect them to over me the show back.”