Leno to Oprah: It's egotistical not to go back

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So let me tell you a quick something about me, the guy who (by default) writes most of this O blog. I am one of the many who claims to be on Team Coco. But my reasons for that have absolutely nothing to do with liking his performance on "The Tonight Show." I didn't. I've never found the guy that funny, when he took over Letterman's gig or when he got Leno's. I have no objections to him and his comedy, by any means, I just am more of a Letterman kinda guy and have been since I was a teenager staying up late waiting for Dave to put on the Alka-Seltzer suit.

Full disclosure: Never watched Leno, either. He's brutish and broad and way too common-denominator for me on a regular basis. Which is exactly why he killed in the "Tonight Show" ratings all those years. He's got a line on the heartland funny bone. And, sad though it may seem to some, he'll most likely kill again when he returns to "Tonight" on March 1. Or at least by summer when we (thankfully) forget about this nonsense.

I'm breaking the fourth wall here because I'm confident that I'm like most of the people who also jumped onto Conan's bandwagon -- like the 94 percent who claimed they were "on his side" of this dreadful Jay-Conan melee in a poll on Oprah.com. If everyone who claims to be on Team Coco had actually watched the show, none of this would be happening. But we didn't, really. Jay failed at 9, and Conan failed at 10:30, and we at least had a cat-fight to entertain us as NBC did what corporations do to protect their bottom line.

So why, if I wasn't necessarily a fan, did I and others chose sides? Two reasons: 1. Everyone loves the underdog, and 2. Leno -- as evidenced in today's chat with Oprah -- has proven himself to be pretty selfish, even if it's kinda understandable.

Throughout today's interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Jay sounded like he was running for something in Tuesday's Illinois primary. Three times he referred to job creation and saving jobs. When Oprah asked him point-blank if he ever thought he was being selfish by reclaiming "The Tonight Show," that was his defense: He had to save the jobs of his staff. But that wasn't his first answer to the question. He initially said, "I like the job and all that comes with it."

When we get down and wallow in the sometimes unpleasant truths of human nature, who can blame the guy? He's right: For the first time in about 60 years, "The Tonight Show," under Conan's brief watch, was on its way to losing money. And Jay appears to be quite sincere when he says he had no idea that NBC would turn to him and offer a return to "Tonight." ("Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I think they'd ask me to go back," he told Oprah.) He's no fool: He took it. And while we wish he was somehow nobler, he's not. Conan himself said it's the best job in the world, and today Jay said the same. He almost had a shaky junkie's look in his eye. Primetime was methadone for him, but now he's got the good stuff again. Ahhhhh.

Oprah, to her credit, pushed him a little near the end. She and Jay go way back; she wasn't exactly Mike Wallace, of course, but she did have the courage to pursue the sticking point that brought so many of us fair-weather fans over to Team Coco.

Oprah: Didn't you think you were the reason [for Conan's departure]?
Jay: No, I wasn't the reason. The reason was the ratings. ... I'm not sure what I could've done differently.
Oprah: [somewhat incredulous] Lots! You could've walked away!
Jay: To me, that's the ego. To say, "OK, I'm outta here."

That's his rationalization: It would have been more obnoxious for him to walk away with his nose in the air than to be what he sees as a loyal employee and go back to doing what made the bosses so happy. Again, who can blame him? An extremely powerful network came to him with supplications, on their knees, saying, "We screwed up. You da man." In addition, he's the hero, saving jobs. "It's a team effort," he said of his staff. "As long as I'm working, they're working." (Which Conan realized, too, which is why he made sure his staff was ably covered in the massive severance from NBC.) Much earlier in the conversation, Oprah asked Jay if he ever considered saying no to NBC. Without an instant of hesitation, he answered, "No."

"I always thought I was doing the right thing," he added.

The only aspect of this interview that rose to the level of poignancy was the fact that Oprah was doing it. She just announced she's quitting her show. She recognized some appropriate exit point and will wave a triumphant farewell next year after 25 years on TV. She expressed some of what's going through her mind about this looming threshold: "Who am I without a TV show when I've had one for 25 years?" she said she's begun asking herself.

Jay laughed off her departure, though, appearing not to believe that she'll actually go through with it. "I'm not going anywhere, neither are you," he said, claiming that they'd both keep on forever. ("If you're a gunfighter, you like to die in the street," he said -- his second fighting metaphor of the interview.) Oprah was amazed. "You don't believe I'll do it?" she said of leaving her show. Jay smirked: "I believe that you believe it."

A great Michelle Shocked song features this climactic refrain: "The secret to a long life is knowing when it's time to go."

Here's a transcript of today's entire show:

OK, let 'er rip, and let's be done with this silliness.
What did you think about Jay's interview today?

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The only difference I would say from James Miller's comment is that Leno IS the old anchor and he came back to gut the new guy before he could come into his own. It's a good thing Johnny Carson didn't do that to him or Jack Parr to Carson; we'd probably have a skeleton sitting at the desk right now if they did.

Leno is such a bore and drab, his show is for people that need to fall asleep.
Anyway Pope-rah, how's Mackenzie Phillips doing? You know your an expert on peoples past lives and problems- although you had no interpersonal relationship with them. You know what Oprah, just following that "episode" (the Mick Jagger/MacKenzie Phillips one) me and a few co-workers had a candid and open discussion on family sex, it drudged up all sorts innuendo's, accusations and sex "stories", turns out one of my co-workers had sex with her family member and had never discussed that before, you know what she did after turning red in fear for revealing her information and private, personal matters to group of strangers at work? She started drinking heavily, and quit her job. I think to myself you should write to Oprah Winfrey now and see if your personal "story" is important enough to announce on television, then again what's more important is Oprah getting poked and fingered by her family members , then using guests on air to to project her OWN needs to feel normal and therapize others lives in order to quell that personal experience of HERS (yours).
She'll be okay Oprah, we know your worried or "care" about her personally.
I have another friend, he was molested by his father for his entire life until he was 16-17, then formed several personalities multiple. What good would it do for him to sit and babble about a past he just assume forget. well it could Miss Oprah boost your ratings or at least put an extra round of royalty payments from advertisers in that bottomless pocket of yours.
Anyway honey- your blush makes ya look a bit like Bozo. I thought they canceled his show.

He should have never of done the interview! He came off as a huge jerk. Which he is. I loved when Oprah asked him if he thought conan could handle the tonite show and he said well he followed me,I thought he could. What an idiot. He came off as smug,cocky, nothing was my fault everything's conan's fault additude. Leno is a huge D-BAG! Proud member of team CoCo!

I don't care who is on The Jay Leno Show, I'm never going to watch again after what he did to Conan.

Ironic, isn't it? As shown by this article (and unfortunately for Mr. Leno and his bosses at NBC), the basic story of their programming fiasco just won't go away. And their endless stream of carefully worded explanations - much less, soul-searching interviews on 'Oprah' - don't seem to be helping much, either. I think a big part of the reason for this is the tightly entwined histories of Leno, the network, and of The Tonight Show, itself.
For any readers too young to recall (or maybe just not interested in late night TV, at the time), it might help your perspective on the current Leno vs O'Brien mess to read some background on the original Leno vs Letterman feud. Here's the full story of how Jay Leno took over the 'The Tonight Show' hosting gig from long-time host Johnny Carson, way back in 1993.
http://bit.ly/6FjAQq (complete article - NY Times; 1994)

Conan is funny like a tooth ache. Most people deeming him a comic in the true sense have no true sense of comedy. Hence heed the bottom line

Lat year I left a job with an established company to help start up a whole new company. Now when that company was immediately dowsized I didn't go back and demand that my original job was given back to me.
Also the state of primetime television right now is downright pitiful. Gone is the 30 minute sitcomand hour and two hour long reality shows now infest the airwaves. Was never a fan of the late night alk show genre so when NBC cchose to devote 5 hours a week of primetime to this I was sorely disapointed.

Jay Leno is a piece of garbage. The network afiiliates were pleading to NBC to take Leno's show off the air because of poor ratings on there 10pm newscasts. At this point-Leno should have done the right thing & walked away. Instead-he choose to backtack over Conans job-rationalizing that idiotic decision saying NBC offered him the job. Conan didn't deserve to get treated like that by NBC & he did the right thing by bolting that network. What goes around comes around & I hope Leno flops at his old time slot.

Jay failed at 9:00. No one was tuning in. So, people weren't tuning in to NBC news. Consequently, people weren't coming back for Conan. This was only part of the reason Conan's ratings were low. But, it does have merit.

I guess Leno is supposed to say, "yes, I did it to spite O'Brien."

When news anchors get replaced, do they come to the new one and ask why they took the job? No. Leno saw it was better for him, so he took the job. I see nothing untoward about that.

Great analysis. The only thing missing is the part of the O interview where Jay compared himself to Roman Polanski and more or less said "Hey, I'm not THAT bad." Really Jay? You consider "at least I don't rape children" a good defense? Even Letterman and Kimmel didn't set the bar that low for you.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on January 28, 2010 9:59 AM.

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