Jay Leno isn’t remorseful for what happened between him, Conan O’Brien, and NBC’s “Tonight Show” in 2010.
“I can’t think of anything I’d do different,” Leno said during Tuesday’s episode of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live.” He was responding to a question from host Andy Cohen, who asked if he could go back, would he do anything different during that 10-month saga when he left “Tonight Show,” and then came back.
“Look, they’re ratings-based shows. People act like it’s your decision. ‘Well, you know, I think I’ll go back.’ The network makes these decisions,” Leno continued. “They decide when you’re going to leave and they decide they want you to come back. So there’s not a lot different I would have done.”
A brief refresher: O’Brien, as part of a new contract he signed, was promised by NBC that he would succeeded Leno as the host of “The Tonight Show,” which he did in 2009. Leno, who wasn’t ready to hang up his desk yet, got a new primetime show at 10 p.m., “The Jay Leno Show” that drew paltry ratings. O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” didn’t draw great ratings either — David Letterman’s “Late Show,” which had been second to Leno for most his tenure, was beating O’Brien just about every night. To fix this, NBC wanted to move “Jay Leno Show” into the 11:35 p.m. “Tonight Show” timeslot — bumping O’Brien back to midnight.
This led to O’Brien’s departure from NBC altogether and Leno went back to hosting “The Tonight Show” until 2014.
Leno’s comments came on the same night that O’Brien debuted his new, slimmed-down version of his TBS series, “Conan.”
In another part of the episode, Leno also touched briefly on his long-running feud with David Letterman. “We don’t hate each other,” he said. “The media makes a big thing about it.” The decades-long beef between the two started when Leno, not Letterman, got the “Tonight Show” gig after Johnny Carson retired. The two would spend the next 20 years jockeying for the late-night ratings crown, which was mostly won by Leno.
Now that Letterman has a new talk show for Netflix, would Leno go on it? “I would,” he said, though added that he has not been asked yet.
You can watch Leno talk Conan above and Letterman below.