Powered by i.TV
April 15, 2014

Leno refuses to admit to Oprah that he's culpable in Conan mess

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 28th 2010 5:55PM
Jay Leno talks to Oprah Winfrey
When you look at the surface, it seemed like Jay Leno was quite revealing during his interview with Oprah Winfrey today. He said that he was "devastated" when NBC came to him in 2004 and told him that they wanted to give Conan O'Brien The Tonight Show. He claimed he was "embarrassed" by what he called "a big mess," and that NBC would have handled it better if "they came in and shot everyone. Then it would have only been a two-day story."

But when Oprah repeatedly tried to get Leno to react to how most of the public is reacting to this story -- that Jay should have stepped aside to give Conan a chance to succeed, and that he is unfairly taking back Conan's dream job -- Leno refused to play along. Not sure if he did so because he's truly not self-aware of what this whole mess looks like or he just doesn't care. But as far as Jay's concerned, this was all just business, and his decision to take back Tonight and Conan's departure are mutually exclusive events.

Clips of the interview are after the jump.



Jay's mantra about L'Affaire de Coco pretty much came down to ratings, ratings, ratings. His show did lousy, Conan's show did lousy, and that's why all of this was set in motion. For instance, when Oprah pointedly asked Jay whether he at all thought he was "taking away Conan's dream," all Leno would say was that "this was an affiliate issue," citing the fact that this would be the first time in the sixty-year history of The Tonight Show that the program would lose money.



In another telling moment, Oprah asked Leno about Conan's now-famous "People of Earth" letter, where he refused to contribute to the destruction of the Tonight franchise by agreeing to a move to 12:05. At that point, Leno got very cold and calculating as these chilling words dripped out of his mouth:

"If you look at where the ratings were, it was already destructive to the franchise."

Yowch.

Most of the time, Oprah good job of asking the questions that needed to be asked and keeping her usual pontificating voice out of the interview. But she slipped up in two instances: 1) She neglected to ask Leno if he thought that his poor ratings at 10PM ET at all contributed to Conan's slippage at 11:35, and 2) when Jay asked her if her opinion of him has changed, she sniffed that she wondered why people were upset at Jay, given what she knows about show biz.

Well, duh, Oprah! Ninety-nine percent of the people watching your show know nothing about the business, but that doesn't mean that their anger at Jay (96% of 80,000 respondents to her web survey were against Leno) is unfounded. Jay just doesn't seem to realize that his decision to stay at NBC is really what set all of this mess in motion, and his refusal to acknowledge it is what is even more infuriating to people. If he decided to step back and, at the very least, take his show elsewhere, NBC would have had no choice but stick with Conan if his ratings tanked. Jay staying gave the NBC execs an out.

But "working stiff" Jay, who again cited that he lives off his stand-up money -- which isn't $100 per set and free drinks at the bar, folks -- hid behind false altruism when Oprah asked why he didn't just walk away when NBC cancelled The Jay Leno Show. He said doing that would have been an "ego decision," because it would have left his staff in the lurch. When pressed by Oprah why he didn't do what Conan did and negotiate severance for his staff, all Leno could say was "I could have done it, but I didn't. They offered me my old job back and I said yes."

There just seems to be no way for Jay to break down that hard New England shell he's built around himself and be real. He called Jimmy Kimmel's attack on Jay on the 10@10 segment "a sucker punch," but also said he didn't want to look like a wimp by editing it out. He felt Conan's jabs at him were "just jokes." And he had what he thought was an introspective moment when he reflected on why things turned out so wrong when he did everything right in his mind. And he just couldn't see what his role was in all this.

AUGGGGHHH! Talk about frustrating. Maybe Jay really is a genius, because if he showed any human frailties at all, he wouldn't have a job. And if Oprah can't break him down, no one will ever be able to do it.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

58 Comments

Filter by:
Pete

It's really simple folks---
A)Conan=NOT FUNNY-Moronic "Humor"
B)Conan=Limited Moronic fan base-
A+B=C Conan bringing down Tonight Show ratings 49%

A+B+C= Get rid of Conan and bring back Jay.

February 10 2010 at 10:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MaryB


Jay Leno is the best choice for the Tonight Show... he always has been...should have never been moved in the first place

February 03 2010 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Beckw

Conan is a fresh breath of air compared to old, arrogant and stale LENO. I refuse to watch Leno on the Tonight Show. NEver again!

February 03 2010 at 6:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Paula

I would rather watch paint dry than watch Craig ferguson. I cant stand him but I dont know why....I just dont like him, AT ALL

February 03 2010 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Paula

people have to remember JAY LENO got screwed first. Conan wasnt getting the ratings. What was NBC supposed to do, give Conan a freakin Medal of honor? For God sakes, NBC never should have let Conan have the Tonight Show in the first place. And Conan should have been smart enough to have it in his contract that he would be given so much time to build up the ratings. NBC is the dumbass here to think that a nutty, out of this world comic like Conan would work on The Tonight Show. He is hilarious but he is too goofy and way off the center when it comes to being conservative, like Jay Leno is.

February 03 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Paula's comment
Beckw

Who appointed YOU to pass judgement on Conan? He is a great person and entertainer, and was perfect for the Tonight Show! You and Jay make a good arrogant couple.

February 03 2010 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Claire

I thought Oprah's pressing questions were a little extreme, and revealed that she's actually caught up in this whole Jay v. Conan fiasco, when the real problem is the sinking NBC. I found this video that especially gives perspective on Oprah's role in this whole mess: http://bit.ly/93lJhu

February 01 2010 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

Conan's ratings on his original later show were better because he followed Jay's Tonight Show. He couldn't keep those ratings because all of you decided not to watch Conan's Tonight Show. All you had to do was not watch Leno at 10 and hit your remotes at 11:35 for Conan and you didn't. Simple.

Jay did well for 15 years no matter whether HIS 10pm leads-ins sucked or not. I'm looking forward to March 1, and getting Jay back where he belongs. NBC made some decisions and Jay gets all the flak. No matter how you twist the facts, Jay's fans will be back.

January 29 2010 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cara

Conan is hilarious, but was set up for failure when he was moved to the Tonight Show and the earlier time slot for 2 main reasons.
#1 - Conan's fans are not Tonight Show viewers.
#2 - In an effort to make Conan more appealing to the regular Tonight Show viewer, his humor was watered down. His new viewing audience didn't get to see him at his best or didn't get the jokes anyway and his loyal fans missed the "old Conan".

I can't wait to see where he ends up next, Conan is freakin' awesome, he will have something new lined up soon and all of us loyal fans will be right here waiting for him!

January 29 2010 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy

I'm with Coco, but I'm tired of people flagging the pro-Leno comments only because they're pro-Leno. Come on...

January 29 2010 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nick

Here is a question I have - how would Leno's ratings have been if Johnny Carson decided to do a 10pm show after handing over the reigns of the Tonight Show to him ?? (Since ratings are one of the reasons he gives for not feeling bad).

Regardless of whose decision the 10pm show was - Conan was never given a chance in the same environment that Leno was (and Letterman at CBS)

Splitting audiences, saturation of guests - who knows what might have happened had Conan been given a chance without Jay in the picture.

....and the excuse about doing it for his staff - what a load of crap.

January 29 2010 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners