Jay Leno to '60 Minutes': I Was 'Blindsided' by First 'Tonight Show' Ouster
In an interview with the CBS newsmagazine, the comedian opens up about the upcoming "Tonight" transition and shares kind words for Jimmy Fallon: He "is probably more like a young Johnny [Carson] than almost anybody since."
Jay Leno is opening up about losing The Tonight Show twice. In an interview set to air Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes, Leno tells Steve Kroft the 2009 debacle in which NBC pushed him from his show and handed it to Conan O'Brien made him feel like he'd been dumped by a girlfriend.
He said of being informed in 2004 that he would be asked to give up his show: "I was blindsided … [NBC executives said] 'You're out…' and I went 'OK.' " He added that he didn't ask the execs why they made their decision. "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, OK?"
He also said he was upset that the media painted him as the villain when NBC pushed O'Brien from The Tonight Show after poor ratings.
"I didn't quite understand that, but I never chose to answer any of those things or make fun of any other people involved," Leno told Kroft. "It's not my way."
Late Night host Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show on Feb. 17, and Leno's post-Tonight future is unclear. NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has said he would like to keep Leno in the NBC family after the comedian's final episode, which is slated for Feb. 6. But sources have told THR that it's highly unlikely that Leno will stay at NBC.
In his 60 Minutes interview, Leno had kind words for Fallon.
"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," Leno said. "So you go with the new guy. Makes perfect sense to me."
When asked if he would have liked to stay at Tonight, he said, "Well, it's always nice to keep working. Sure it is. … But am I extremely grateful. Yeah."
The interview also features Leno's wife, Mavis, and follows the comedian to his hometown of Andover, Mass.
Leno's guests for his final week of The Tonight Show were announced Jan. 19:
Monday, Feb. 3: Jimmy Fallon, Betty White
Tuesday, Feb. 4: Matthew McConaughey, Charles Barkley, Lyle Lovett
Wednesday, Feb. 5: Sandra Bullock, Blake Shelton
Thursday, Feb. 6: Billy Crystal, Garth Brooks
** Vintage Trouble will also appear during the week.
60 Minutes airs Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.