« Previous Post | Show Tracker Home | Next Post »

Jay Leno goes light on the jokes, heavy on the truth

Getprev-1 After a week of Leno-bashing, Jay Leno took time after his monologue on "The Jay Leno Show" tonight to address the giant elephant in the room known as Conan O'Brien and the "The Tonight Show."

The following is a verbatim transcript, provided by NBC:

"I thought maybe I should address this.  At least give you my view of what has been going on here at NBC.  Oh, let’s start in 2004.  2004 I’m sitting in my office, an NBC executive comes in and says to me, listen, Conan O’Brien has gotten offers from other networks.  We don’t want him to go, so we’re going to give him ‘The Tonight Show.’  I said, ‘well, I’ve been number one for 12 years.’  They said, ‘we know that, but we don’t think you can sustain that.’  I said, ‘okay.  How about until I fall to number two, then you fire me?’  ‘No, we made this decision.’  I said, ‘that’s fine.’  Don’t blame Conan O’Brien.  Nice guy, good family guy, great guy.  He and I have talked and not a problem since then.  That’s what managers and people do, they try to get something for their clients. I said, ‘I’ll retire just to avoid what happened the last time.’  Okay.

So time goes by and we stay number one up until the day we leave.  We hand - (applause)-No, no.  Okay, but I’m leaving before my contract is out.  About six to eight months early.  So before I could go anywhere else, I would be at least a year or 18 months before I could go and do a show somewhere else.  I said to NBC, ‘would you release me from my contract.’  They said, ‘we want to keep you here.’  Okay.  What are your ideas?  They said, ‘how about primetime?’  I said, ‘that will never work.’  No, no, we want to put you on at 10:00.  We have done focus groups.  People will love you at 10:00.  Look at these studies showing Jay’s chin at 10:00.  People will go crazy.  Didn’t seem like a good idea at the time.  I said, ‘alright, can I keep my staff?’  There are 175 people that work here.  I said, ‘can I keep my staff?’  Yes, you can.  Let’s try it.  We guarantee you two years on the air, guaranteed.  Now for the first four or five months against original shows like “CSI” you’ll get killed, but in the spring and summer when the reruns come, that’s when you’ll pick up.  Okay, great.  I agree to that.

Four months go by, we don’t make it.  Meanwhile, Conan’s show during the summer, we’re not on, was not doing well.  The great hope was that we would help him.  Well, we didn’t help him any, okay.  They come and go, ‘this show isn’t working.  We want to let you go.’  Can you let me out of my contract?  No, you’re still a valuable asset to this company.  How valuable can I be?  You fired me twice.  How valuable can I be?  Okay.  So then, the affiliates are not happy.  The affiliates are the ones that own the TV stations.  They’re the ones that sort of makes the decisions, they’re not happy with your performance and Conan is not doing well at 11:30.  I said, ‘what’s your idea?’  They said, ‘well, look, how about you do a half hour show at 11:30?’  Now, where I come from, when your boss gives you a job and you don’t do it well, I think we did a good job here, but we didn’t’ get the ratings, so you get humbled.  I said, ‘okay, I’m not crazy about doing a half hour, but okay.  What do you want to do with Conan?’  We’ll put him on at midnight, or 12:05, keeps “The Tonight Show” does all that, he gets the whole hour.  I said, okay.  You think Conan will go for that?  Yes, yes.  (laughter)  Almost guarantee you.  I said okay.  Shake hands, that’s it.  I don’t have a manager, I don’t have an agent, that’s my handshake deal.

Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that.  They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back?  I go, ‘yeah, I’ll take the show back.  If that’s what he wants to do.  This way, we keep our people working, fine.’ So that’s pretty much where we are.  It looks like we might be back at 11:30, I’m not sure.  I don’t know.  (applause)  I don’t know.  But through all of this - through all of this, Conan O’Brien has been a gentleman.  He’s a good guy.  I have no animosity towards him.  This is all business.  If you don’t get the ratings, they take you off the air.  I think you know this town, you can do almost anything.  You get ratings they keep you.  I don’t get ratings, he wants.  That was NBC’s solution.  It didn’t work so we might have an answer for you tomorrow.  So, we’ll see.  That’s basically where it is."

--Maria Elena Fernandez (follow me on Twitter @writerchica)

Photo: Jay Leno/Credit: Associated Press


Taking on America's Nice Guy

Comments () | Archives (43)

Nice attempt at damage control, Leno. Too bad anyone with more than two brain cells (NOT your fans, unfortunately) can see right through you and your lame attempts at keeping your "everyman" image. Just do society a favor and retire. Leave comedy to the comedians and to those who don't only care about their own egos and the many cars they own. Leno, you make me sick.

I'm with Coco.

So I'm guessing NBC will have to update their slogan now: "more colorful (but less ginger)."

Thanks, Jay! I think everyone needed to hear that. We all know it's not your fault!. Everyone will be happy in a year or two! It'll all work out!
We are thrilled about you getting your home back!

You get fired twice but NBC doesn't want to release you from your contract because you are too valuable to them? Huh? I wish I could work for NBC and be fired like that.

"Here's what happen... I'm a network tool... I'll go along with the network brass anytime unlike Conan, who stood up to the network... It is all business."

That's pretty classy Jay. Nicely done. Nevertheless, it seems a more gentlemanly thing to do would have been to realize the buffoons at the network weren't capable of making a decent decision (they can't possibly possess a clue to what goes on anywhere) and turned in your late-night host badge altogether.

That did not happen, assuming from my puny perspective that your career obviously meant more to you than pretty much anything else. As it stands you're giving us the tragic mea culpa, yet siding up to the suits that ruined you. Sorry, but you still smell like a suit. The suits at NBC have created, as has been trumpeted far and wide, a public relations nightmare. When they announced a week before Conan was leaving that Jay would be coming to primetime, everyone I know who has ever turned on a television said, 'bad idea.' Until these simpletons at NBC are saved from totally and utterly pulverising a once great television entity, you can expect anything but success. Have fun watching the ratings go over the cliff, Jay.

That was a beautiful fairy tale, the kind of story you tell a restless child to get them to go to sleep. I don't buy it. I'm familiar with Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart was one of my favorite movie stars. Jay Leno is no Jimmy Stewart.

However, Jay Leno IS a guy who knows how to do one thing well. If he can't make viewers laugh, he can at least entertain the execs at NBC. I'm not sure what he's using to polish their brass, but the fumes are making my eyes water.

I can't imagine Jay couldn't have negotiated a lucrative exit contract for he and his staff if he had been "guaranteed" 10 o'clock for two years. The NBC executives are largely responsible for screwing things up five years ago and again recently but Jay should have done the right thing and refuse to take back 11:35 and let Conan continue with the Tonight Show at that time.

@Brian C: You do understand that when Leno was "fired" in 2009 he was the #1 rated late night talk show, right? He averaged 5.7M viewers a night when he was "fired". You also understand that Conan has only average 2.9M viewers a night when this whole thing happened, right?

Leno was "fired" the first time to make room for Conan. Conan couldn't hack it (he's the #3 rated late night show behind Letterman and Nightline) so they brought Leno back.

As a TV executive, which would you rather keep: #1 rated show or #3 rated show?

"You get fired twice but NBC doesn't want to release you from your contract because you are too valuable to them? Huh? I wish I could work for NBC and be fired like that."

Golden handcuffs, you're not doing well enough in the ratings, but still too popular to cut loose. It looks like NBC tried to split the difference by keeping Jay on at 10 and put Conan in as promised at 11:30, but it didn't work. Every other time there was a handoff like this, the former host went away and didn't split the audience or bring down the lead in. Conan never had a shot. He might have done better if NBC had kept the dramas at 10 providing a strong lead in to the news, which then would have been a strong lead in to the Tonight Show.

Conan couldn't cut it and he refused to cut a deal.
Leno can and and he did.

To RT Tom LA, "Jay should have done the right thing and refuse to take back 11:35 and let Conan continue with the Tonight Show at that time." Nothing could be clearer ..

I am assuming then, that everybody here siding with Conan would gladly step aside at their current job and let the younger work have it and go into retirement effective immediately? I mean, thats what you're telling Jay to do, so I can't wait to hear about all the exciting job opportunities available in next few weeks due to all the noble people who believe that someone should just step aside and let the younger guy have it.

Daniel, You can't compare the Leno situation with the typical job market. I guarantee you that a lot of jobs would immediately open up if people were suddenly blessed with the financial security that Leno enjoys.

This was about doing to the "noble" thing and Leno was certainly in the position to do so yet apparently chose not to. Leno could have made "Leno at 11:35" NOT an option for NBC and thereby allow Conan to remain at 11:35.

Actually, if I had been doing the job for 17 years and had amassed MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to make sure that I can live the rest of my life comfortably, I would be MORE than happy to step aside for someone who had been working JUST AS LONG AS I HAVE at the same company so that they can have the dream job that I held the entire time. It's called integrity. Leno has none of it, so stop trying to defend his heinous acts of self-preservation.

What a piece of crap. According to you Jay, back in 2004 NBC came and basically told you that they are giving your job to Conan in 5 years. If you that strongly about teh Tonight Show, why did you just say no and force NBC's hand? You agree to leave and now you claim you did not want to? If you did not think prime time would work why did you just say no and either let NBC fired you or wait till you contract expires. Now you claim you were looking out for your staff but you were quick to throw out your manager who got you the job in the first place once she served her purpose. You have less credibility everytime you speak. I think you will make a great NBC executive since they think just like you.

Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that. They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, ‘yeah, I’ll take the show back. If that’s what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.’

I'm sure Leno was only worried about keeping "his people working" during this morass. The next time you're giving people your view of what has been going on, at least have the gonads to say that you've been pining for your old job back and have no qualms about shoving Conan out of your way to get it.

who cares about this in Haiti? waste o time......

Will Jay move to the new building on the Universal Lot?

1 2 3 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: