Jay Leno Tells '60 Minutes' He Was 'Blind-sided' When NBC Gave 'The Tonight Show' to Conan O'Brien

Categories: Network TV Press Releases

Written By

January 24th, 2014

60 Minutes Jay Leno

via press release:



In His First In-Depth Interview About His Departure From Late Night, Comedian Reveals  How He Felt About Losing His Job Twice

            Jay Leno tells Steve Kroft he never saw it coming.  The departing Tonight Show host says NBC’s now-epic mistake of replacing him in 2009 with Conan O’Brien was a shocker that made him feel like a girlfriend had broken up with him.  It's the first time the “Tonight Show” host has spoken in-depth about the drawn-out process that saw him fired from his two-decade, late-night perch twice, once for the failed experiment with Conan O'Brien and now for Jimmy Fallon, who will replace him next month.  His interview with Kroft will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, Jan. 26 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

“I was blindsided… [NBC executives said], ‘You’re out,’ and I went ‘okay.’” He says he never asked NBC why, but the news hurt him like a romantic breakup. “You know, you have a girl [who] says, ‘I don’t want to see you anymore.’  Why? You know, she doesn’t want to see you anymore, okay?”

He also says he was devastated to be portrayed as the bad guy when NBC took the popular O’Brien off the “Tonight Show” when its ratings tanked.  “I didn’t quite understand that, but I never chose to answer any of those things or make fun of any other people involved,” he tells Kroft.  “It’s not my way.”

Fallon will take over the “Tonight Show” on Feb. 17. Leno praised him. “It's not my decision and I think I probably would have stayed if we didn’t have an extremely qualified, young guy ready to jump in.  [Jimmy Fallon] is probably more like a young Johnny [Carson] than almost anybody since. And he's really good. So you go with the new guy. Makes perfect sense to me.”  Watch an excerpt.  Asked if he would have preferred to stay, Leno says, “Well, it’s always nice to keep working. Sure it is… But am I extremely grateful. Yeah.”

Kroft  also interviews his wife, Mavis, and he accompanies the late night legend to his home town of Andover, Mass., where he got his comedy start in a talent contest surrounding the promotion of McDonald’s’ Fillet-o-Fish sandwich.

The interview with Kroft bookends Leno’s career on the “Tonight Show”; Leno gave Kroft an interview for 60 MINUTES when he took over the program from Johnny Carson in 1992.

  • Xtincta

    YAAAAYS DRAG CONAN!!!! He should’ve never gotten the show! Neither should Jimmy but I digress.

  • Peter

    Blindsided? They announced it 5 years before it happened, after he had already been hosting the show for 17 years!

  • Shepherd

    The only mistake NBC made was trying to bump Conan’s TTS so that they could move Leno back into prime time after only 6 months. Conan certainly did better in terms of award nominations per seasons on air.

    Neither Leno or Fallon have ever been funny; I hope the ratings tank again.

  • FowlScat

    Jay Leno is a weasel of a human being. I hope this is early stages of his retirement, as my desire to see him in any type of media going forward is non existent. I do not appreciate the way he has handled any of these tonight show transitions and I feel he should not have been the heir to the great Johnny Carson. The Tonight Show should have been retired before letting Fallon destroy the franchise further with his third rate at best productions.

  • richard

    I do not find Jay to be particularly funny, but I feel like everyone overreacted back in 2010. And I don’t find Conan’s show to be that funny either, if we’re being honest, but I guess I prefer it to Leno’s, but neither are that good.

  • PJM

    Leno is so full of crap. He AGREED in 2004 to a five-year final deal and to make this transition so NBC could avoid what happened with Letterman. And Leno tries to claim he’s not the bad guy here? What BS.

  • Joel

    No, PJM, Leno was told he had 5 years then he was out in favor of Conan. This was not an option.

  • Jack

    NBC did Conan wrong. He was and is a great host. He is not everyone’s cup of tea, if you will. I am not a Fallon fan. Sure he is funny. I’d prefer to watch Conan.

  • Ultima

    “I was blind-sided when NBC didn’t throw Conan under the bus so that I could keep The Tonight Show. Can you really blame me? After all, they did the same thing to David Letterman!” ;)

  • bob

    Leno should have never come back he ruined the franchise by doing so

  • CarShark

    I think he meant that he was blindsided back in 2004. He was still on top ratings-wise. It was still a huge mistake to give him the 10 PM slot years ago. It was a huge vote of no-confidence for Conan and kept the bad blood flowing.

  • Shepherd

    “I was blind-sided when NBC didn’t throw Conan under the bus so that I could keep The Tonight Show. Can you really blame me? After all, they did the same thing to David Letterman!” ;)


  • jake

    Conan > All

  • Randall

    Conan always seemed bored with his guests in the first few seasons of his original show, so I ended up tuning out. Jay Leno on the other hand came across like a good host should, and I will miss him. I’ve never seen Fallon’s show, but I couldn’t stand his constant mugging on SNL.

  • Jamey

    Ruined the franchise? He consistently outrates CBS and ABC. Leno is hilarious. Conan is……….Conan. If you find him funny hes great, but if you dont get his brand of humor hes just annoying. But then again what should I expect from the posters on this board. LOL

  • CarShark


    He probably was told that they would only sign him for five more years with no chance for an extension.

  • Caribulou

    Conan was horrible. Jay completely destroys him and the rest in the ratings. He is truely a nice guy. All those other jerks are just jealous cause he is the best and they cant compete. Kimmel is just a tool. Letterman have never been funny and never will be. I have high hopes for Fallon.

  • Mikeg

    Put aside the fact that he did know about the decision in 2004, he still came back to NBC with the Jay Leno Show. Then when his ratings were bad (even worse that Conan’s Tonight Show), he went along with NBC in moving the Tonight Show into the next morning and when Conan would not, he went along with kicking Conan out for Jay to come back.

    None of this sounds like Jay Leno got the short end of the stick. And if he were truly heart broken and felt betrayed by NBC, he would not have done all of that and backed Conan knowing it was not Conan’s decision to kick him out.

    Either way, he is still partially at fault and the Tonight Show will be finally back in good hands with Fallon.

  • BaziCat

    blindsided because he didn’t have a chance to hide in a closet and listen to the conversation.

  • Oliver

    Why is he doing this interview with CBS and not on NBC? Someone’s not happy.

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