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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