The late-night drama involving Jay Leno is still being discussed.
Leno left The Tonight Show in May 2009 and was replaced by Conan O’Brien, a deal that had been five years in the making, and Leno moved to 10pm with The Jay Leno Show.
However, neither show performed well in the ratings and after a lot of back and forth O’Brien left and Leno returned to The Tonight Show until 2014.
Speaking to Maher, Leno said it was never his intention to “deliberately sabotage” The Tonight Show hosted by O’Brien, an accusation that has been made. “It doesn’t work that way. You’re trying to do the best you can,” he said.
Asked why he stayed at NBC rather than moving to another network, Leno said, “Sometimes the czar you have is better than the one you’re going to”. “Then you have your old team shooting at you as well. I just figured let’s just play this out and see what happens. This all happened fairly quickly,” he added.
However, another factor was ABC and Jimmy Kimmel. In 2008, Leno discussed moving to ABC, something then ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson admitted publicly.
This would have meant pushing back Jimmy Kimmel Live! from midnight to 12:35am.
Leno did speak to Kimmel, who was theoretically ok with the idea, trusting that he would get a better lead in than Nightline. However, Kimmel has said that Leno never called him back to let him know that he was staying at NBC.
“I suppose I should have called Jimmy and explained to him again, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t. I just didn’t. I thought he probably would figure it out. But I think maybe he was hurt by that, and I apologized to him for that,” added Leno.
The You Bet Your Life host added that he thought Kimmel was “really funny” and did a great job hosting the Oscars. “It’s just one of those awkward situations where he was a huge Letterman guy and when Letterman didn’t get The Tonight Show, somehow it was my fault. I think he resented that and I get that. But, Dave never had The Tonight Show,” he added.
Leno also addressed a changing world where linear ratings for late-night shows are dramatically lower than when he was in the space.
“The toughest thing about late night now is that the commercials. You know, you get used to streaming and watching Netflix and I go ‘Let me see what the guys are doing.’ I go, ‘Another commercial?’ I mean, there’s a nine-minute break at 12am to 12:09am on almost all the shows. After 11pm at night you can add more commercials so…,” he said.
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