It's been more than two years since Conan O'Brien lost his gig hosting "The Tonight Show" in a very public debacle that seriously undercut Jay Leno's "nice guy" image, not to mention his longtime ratings dominance.
On Thursday, O'Brien made his first visit to "The Late Show" in 13 years, where he opened up about the fight over "The Tonight Show." While he was hardly reluctant to dish the dirt, his enthusiasm for Leno-bashing paled in comparison to Letterman's.
Even after two years, it was inevitable that the subject of their shared nemesis would come up, and so it did -- almost instantly. For the first 30 seconds or so of the interview, the two hosts sat there in awkward silence, until Letterman chimed in: "I think the longer we just sit here, the more uncomfortable it will make Jay."
From there, it was open season on Leno, with both hosts doing the obligatory impersonation of his famously high-pitched voice. Letterman was more openly hostile toward his longtime rival, telling O'Brien that he was "delighted" by the ordeal because, finally, the public could see what he has long believed: that Leno is "a bit of a brat." "When this came along, I said to myself, 'This is the Jay I know,'" Letterman recalled. "I refer to that period as the Golden Age of Television."
"You clearly were using my experience to work through some things," O'Brien suggested.
After a commercial break, Letterman renewed the interrogation, asking O'Brien about the nature of his relationship with Leno before "the felony took place." At first, O'Brien seemed a bit reluctant to trash-talk: "I was assured none of this would come up tonight. I was told we would discuss our shared love of antiquing."
O'Brien tried to be diplomatic, explaining that "we're quite different fellows, he and I," but the temptation to take a shot at Leno proved too enticing. "We didn’t have a lot to talk about in common. I don’t own many automobiles that were made before 1904, primarily of brass and leather," O'Brien quipped, a reference to Leno's enormous car collection.
"Now we're getting someplace," Letterman said, happy that his goading had paid off.
To his credit, O'Brien repeatedly expressed his gratitude to his bosses at TBS and few regrets over "The Tonight Show" disaster. "I’m very lucky. TBS lets me do whatever I want. They don’t watch it, they don’t care," he said.
— Meredith Blake