Jay Leno cleared the air about his long-documented late-night feuds with Conan O’Brien and David Letterman on Tuesday’s edition of “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen”.
The former “Tonight Show” host spilled the beans during a game of “Plead the Fifth”, in which he was asked if he had any regrets about how he handled the conflict with O’Brien in 2009.
“If you could go back and redo one thing during the time from when Conan took over for you on ‘The Tonight Show’ and then after 10 months you came back to ‘The Tonight Show’, what would it be?” Cohen asked.
“I can’t think of anything I’d do different,” answered Leno, who saw the entire debacle as a business situation. “Look, they’re ratings-based shows,” he explained.
“People act like it’s your decision. ‘Well, you know, I think I’ll go back.’ The network makes these decisions. They decide when you’re going to leave and they decide they want you to come back. So there’s not a lot different I would have done.”
In 2009, NBC announced that O’Brien would be replacing Leno as host of “The Tonight Show”, with the former host moving to a new show at 10 p.m.
However, after struggling ratings, the network asked Leno to return to his old slot, pushing back O’Brien into a post-midnight timeslot. O’Brien parted ways with NBC in light of the decision; a few months later Leno was back as host of “The Tonight Show”.
Elsewhere on the show, Leno touched on his rivalry with fellow late-night veteran Letterman. When Cohen asked if he’d ever appear on Letterman’s new Netflix talk show, Leno responded, “Sure, I’d go on.”
“We don’t hate each other,” he continued. “The media makes a big thing about it.” He also talked about the difference between his and Letterman’s styles and how they learned from each other.
“When I started, Letterman was a great wordsmith but he’s kind of a hesitant performer. I was a very loud, boisterous performer but I wasn’t that good of a writer. So I would watch him and go, ‘Oh man, how’d he put those sentences together?’ And he’d watch me back, ‘How can he be so confident on set?’ So I think we sort of took from each other a little bit.”