Leno On Oprah: The Ten Quotes Meant To Convince Us He's Not A Monster Who Stomped On Coco's Dreams
We thought that Friday's LiveTweet of Conan O'Brien's final Tonight Show would be the last we'd need to worry about The Great Late Night Wars of 2010, really, we did. After the final bars of "Free Bird" faded out, we took off our foam CoCo wig, placed it on a high shelf, and were ready to move on with our lives. (Well, at least until O'Brien, rising like a phoenix that had just eaten a peacock whole and pooped out a pile of rainbow-colored ashes, alighted at Fox some seven months hence.) But: Leno. Here he comes again, offering us not even a week of peace, to give His Side of the Story on Oprah later today. The Chicago Tribune's Mo Ryan has already heroically provided a transcript of Leno's first stop on his damage control tour; after the jump, the choicest quotes from Leno's effort to buff his irrevocably tarnished Nice Guy image before reassuming the Tonight Show throne in March:
1. On letting the world know that contrary to published reports, he actually does have a heart, and being forced into a slow-developing retirement hurt, and hey, let's get on the record that Conan O'Brien's not the first comedian who thought The Tonight Show was the best and most desirable gig in television, have you already forgotten Leno hid in a closet and did all sorts of unpleasant things to get that great job in the first place? Hiding in a closet takes a lot out of a guy, you never really shake that reputation as a weasely closet-hider, you know?:
"It broke my heart. It really did I was devastated. This was the job that I had always wanted and this was the only job that ever mattered in show business -- to me. It's the job every comic aspires to. It was just like, why?"
2. On his confusion between a "white lie" and "totally insincere nonsense that would temporarily make him look like a good guy," when he gave that famous torch-passing speech back in 2004, with the retirement thing and all the disingenuous talk about how Conan is great and some humble stuff about how he's no Johnny Carson, that has since been replayed millions of times as evidence of his self-preserving mendacity. What was he supposed to say? "I have no idea why I just agreed to the most insane plan in late-night history, instead of just taking my first-place audience across the street to crush the network that had the balls to ask me if it could suck the life out of me for five more years, then toss my desiccated husk in a canyon off Mulholland once they've decided I'm all used up?":
"Well, I did tell a white lie on the air. I said, 'I'm going to retire.'" It was just maybe easier that way."
3. On why the show failed, i.e. the reasons basically everyone on the planet saw coming the minute the crazy-sounding plan was announced, except the people at NBC too terrified to let Leno leave:
"I think the show failed because it was basically a late-night talk show at 10 o'clock. You're competing with dramas that are $3 to $6 million an episode."
4. On whether or not he was given enough time to make the 10 p.m. experiment work, and how stunned he was to discover that people might take an interest in a fiasco where two of the biggest TV stars in the world were essentially pitted against one another in nightly gladiatorial combat, a nasty, gore-splattered battle that evoked David Vs. Goliath, Young Vs. Old, Jauntily Bepompadoured Good Vs. Anvil-Chinned Evil, with nothing but the most coveted job in show business at stake:
"I was given enough time. It didn't work. It's a TV show that got canceled. I am actually surprised that this got this much attention."
5. On the numbers, the odds, and reminding people that this was really Conan's fault for not performing following NBC's devastated primetime lineup:
"It all comes down to numbers in show business. This is almost the perfect storm of bad things happening. You have two hit shows -- 'Tonight Show' No. 1 and Conan No. 1. You move them both to another situation. And what are the odds that both would do extremely poorly? If Conan's numbers had been a little bit higher, it wouldn't even be an issue. But in show business, there's always somebody waiting in the wings. Being me."
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