Jay Leno Speaks Out on ConanGate: 'This Is All Business'

Anticipating the forthcoming announcement in which NBC will make official his reinstatement to The Tonight Show -- along with the departure of the late night colleague who has called that network his home since 1993 -- Jay Leno offered his audience a long explanation of the backroom maneuverings that led to an unprecedented broadcasting debacle. Amazingly, it's not that far off from our own satiric imagining of what such an explanation might sound like; but make no mistake, this is the real deal. What follows, courtesy of Variety, is the full text of Leno's remarks from tonight's The Jay Leno Show:

"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?

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  • Krugmanic Depressive says:

    Is there no limit to the man's self-pity? "I'm just a simple man, with simple tastes, trying to do whatever the executives at NBC want me to." Only his audience could be stupid enough to believe this.

  • HwoodHills says:

    The "Small Man - Big Town" self-labeling fault, I'll give you.
    But if your argument is, "I did what was best for the company..." then THAT'S where you lose people.
    We're not talking about Stan's Local Diner, we're talking about NBC.
    It appears that Leno has seller's remorse and is trying to validate that by using ratings as the reason he should be back in the chair.
    He had almost 3 years (hopefully my dates are correct) in second place until the Hugh Grant windfall. And that was WITH a 10pm lead in.
    How could O'Brien do as well with a failing show at 10pm 5 nights a week?
    Leno should have done the right thing and walked away from 10pm.
    If it was HIS decision to take 10pm "Valiantly so", then he should be equally valiant and step away from 10pm.
    Business is business and he WAS #1 at 11:30. (And just might be so again.) But stepping back in now? When he, himself had been given time to mature when things were down? - That just seems greedy.

  • Mavis Leno says:

    I'm with CoCo!

  • Marin says:

    Why exactly is Leno under the impression that anyone is blaming Conan? (other than asshole NBC execs)

  • Andy III says:

    So he's trying to save 175 jobs eh?
    He's the guy trying to keep the truck plant open...not a guy who's had a good run and made a vast fortune doing it? Yeeesh.

  • SunnydaZe says:

    All hell broke loose and Conan decided to walk. Was that valiant? Yes, but he also knows he has many other offers on the table. So, empty Tonight Show slot...
    Leno would have to be quite the martyr to not take his old spot back.
    The network is really to blame for all of this. (Dating all the way back to forcing Carson to retire and replacing him with Leno instead of Letterman)
    But, as another commenter here brilliantly stated> All NBC is doing is creating their own competition. It will be interesting to see where the cards fall by this time next year...
    I think NBC's next move should be to try and move "30 Rock" to daytime so Tina Fey gets pissed and goes over to another network . . .

  • Brenda Jones says:

    If it not broke why fix it....the whole thing was a mess from the onset. Leno was King of late night and Conan was King of late late night. Hope this move does'nt cost Leno. Total lack of respect NBC has shown everyone. NBC = No Bull Crap, It's shameful!

  • Dave H. says:

    Even through the probable 50% truth to everyone's (Conan, Jay) responses in this debacle, the true villain shines through...NBC. I don't particularly like either of the individuals involved but both have been tarnished by their association with the idiots that run NBC and their careers may never bounce back (to the glee of some, I'm sure).

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    Jay, I double-dog-dare you to try a JayWalking segment now.