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.

  • Gary Middleton

    Oliver, does NBC have a prime time outlet for celebrity interviews?

  • Gary Middleton

    Can really see what a mistake it is for any of these guys to do self-important interviews. It was a bust for Leno on Oprah, for Conan on 60 Minutes, and now you can see it opening all kinds of wounds unnecessarily for Leno on 60 Minutes.

  • Michael1

    NBC cancelled “ER” and handed “Medium” over to CBS in order to make room for Leno’s 10 pm show. Their 10 pm hour has still not yet recovered from that. Maybe “The Blacklist” will stabilize…

  • DOOLfan

    I never understood why Conan fans blamed Leno. Conan couldn’t hold the ratings that Jay had and therefore the network was losing money. NBC made the mistake of assuming Conan and Leno would have the same following.

  • k:Alex

    What a Jay Leno hate, he made a good show 22 years and was most of the time #1.
    Jimmy will have good enough ratings, his 18-49 rating are getting higher each week.

    NBC did a lot of weird things with The Tonight Show before Johnny Carson, and in 2010 again.
    But Conan has a good cable show, Jay is #1 again so it worked out fine, get over it.

  • The Original J

    How could he be blindsided by a decision that was made five years in advance of his actual departure date?

  • Nick

    Conan fans still sound so pressed after all these years. You got to let it go. He has his own show on TBS now. Don’t you know? Where he can basically do whatever he wants. It’s great. I highly doubt he stays awake at night thinking “Man, I sure wish I was still the host of The Tonight Show.”

    It’s sad to see Jay leave again, because he is still and always will be a great host, but this time it’s completely understandable. His ratings aren’t what they were in 2004, and Fallon has a lot of energy and huge potential to be the next great TTS host. With that being said, NBC has done Leno wrong twice, and it’s a shame he couldn’t just leave when he was absolutely ready.

  • Krystaaal

    He’ll be back.

  • Dan

    lmao Leno is so full of crap. What a terrible host good riddance!

  • Candy Clouds

    Gary Middleton: “Oliver, does NBC have a prime time outlet for celebrity interviews?”

    It used to be Dateline, but now they just focus mostly on true crime stuff.

  • The Booper

    This is a ratings website so how come all the anti Leno posters don’t check out the daily late night ratings. Leno blows away Letterman and Kimmel. I’m curious to see what happens with Fallon in the earlier time slot. He seems childish and sophomoric in the few times I’ve watched part of his show (or just the promos.)

  • RCR

    You guys–think for a minute. He was blindsided in 2004. This is the part of the story people conveniently leave out. Back in 2004, Conan threatened to bolt for another network if he wasn’t promised the Tonight Show in a new contract. He did this because Jay’s contract was up. So the deal was made with Conan, and NBC went to Jay and said, “We’re reupping you, but you’re out after 5 years.”

    THAT’s when he was blindsided. But he put on a good face for the public and tried to give Conan a shot, despite the fact that Conan did all of this behind Jay’s back. Then NBC realized the problem–Jay was still by far number 1 and could go to another network and continue to dominate. So they offered him a 10:00 show. Jay took it because his entire staff went with him. That’s something he couldn’t guarantee his staff if he moved elsewhere.

    Conan’s numbers slipped, and Conan refused to move Tonight to 12:05, despite the fact that the Tonight Show hasn’t always started at 11:30/5. So, they booted Conan and brought Jay back.

    This time, things are different. First, Fallon made it clear to Jay he wasn’t gunning for his job, unlike Conan, and would only talk about taking it when Jay said, “Okay.” NBC, unlike last time, ASKED Jay if he would step down, as opposed to TELLING him he was out. BIG difference this time around.

  • Andy

    “once for the failed experiment with Conan O’Brien”
    lolwat? Because Leno did better once he got TTS back? ahah, nice one.

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