Jay Leno Reveals His Biggest 'Tonight Show' Blunder, Advice to Seth Meyers (Video)

9:00 AM PST 01/29/2014 by THR Staff

The departing late night host tells THR about how Kathie Lee Gifford factors into his "favorite embarrassing incident" and why he's more than comfortable with his legacy: "People can debate whether something was funny or not funny -- it's pretty subjective -- but what you can't change are the numbers."

Jay Leno is opening up about his impending retirement from The Tonight Show and looking back at his "favorite embarrassing incident" as host.

During his cover shoot for the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine, Leno revealed a '90s booking snafu ranks as a low point for him on the show.

The host had routinely been making jokes about Kathie Lee Gifford, who was embroiled in a sweatshop controversy surrounding her line of Kathie Lee clothes. Leno wanted Gifford on the show, but his people repeatedly told him she wouldn't do it. Thinking he could prove them wrong, Leno asked one of his people for "Kathie Lee's number."

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He called the number and the woman on the other end agreed to come on the show – with very little convincing.

"I walked back in the booking room," Leno said, his voice booming, " 'Well! If you want something done, you do it yourself. I just booked Kathie Lee."

But it turned out that Leno booked the wrong Kathie Lee. Instead of Gifford, he had spoken with Cathy Lee Crosby, best known for the early 1980s show That's Incredible.

" 'I just booked Cathie Lee Crosby?! That's Incredible hasn't been on in 35 years,' " he told his producer when he figured out the mistake.

An embarrassed Leno had to call up Crosby and tell her she wouldn't be coming on the show.

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In the video above, Leno also shared the advice he would give to Seth Meyers, who will take over Late Night on Feb. 24.

"I think he'll bring like a Tomorrow Show kind of atmosphere to it," said Leno. "Being at 12:30 he can maybe do a few more serious people."

And how does Leno think people will remember his tenure on Tonight?

"People can debate whether something was funny or not funny -- it's pretty subjective -- but what you can't change are the numbers," he said. "My job was to have the No. 1 show. I was given the No. 1 talk show and for the last 20 years, we've been the No. 1 talk show all the way through. That's what you look at."

For more from Leno, watch the video above or read his in-depth Q&A with THR here.

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