Jay Leno Discusses His Late Night ‘Sabotage’ Of Conan O’Brien 

Twelve years after the ‘Tonight Show’ hosting feud began, Jay Leno revisited it on Bill Maher’s new podcast on Monday.

We’re more likely to see peace in the Middle East than peace between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.

Twelve years after the Tonight Show hosting feud began, Jay Leno revisited it on Bill Maher’s new podcast on Monday. Leno insisted on Club Random With Bill Maher that he did not “sabotage” O’Brien’s chances of succeeding as his successor.

For the umpteenth time, Jay Leno asserted he did not work behind the scenes to get O’Brien canceled. He pointed to O’Brien’s low ratings and behavior with NBC executives as the reasons why.

In June 2009, O’Brien replaced Leno, who still holds the record of taping more Tonight Show episodes than any other host. Concurrently, NBC moved Leno to a prime-time slot ahead of O’Brien for a program called The Jay Leno Show. Leno told Maher the plan was doomed from the start.

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“I said, ‘Ten o’clock talk shows don’t work,’” Jay Leno recalled. He reasoned that a talk show couldn’t compete with big-budget dramas that aired at 10 p.m. and had loyal audiences.

Regardless, Jay Leno said he agreed to the prime-time arrangement anyway because NBC had promised to pay Leno’s staff for two years — even if the show was canceled.

Sure enough, that turned out to be the fate of The Jay Leno Show. But while Leno acknowledged that reality, he called foul on claims that he wanted his own show to fail so he could reclaim The Tonight Show.

“[Some people say,] ‘Oh, Leno deliberately sabotaged his show to try and get The Tonight Show.’ No, it doesn’t work that way,” Leno told Maher. “You try and do the best you can, and it didn’t work.”

Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien And The ‘Tonight Show’ Debacle

Amid the ratings dive, NBC asked Leno to move The Jay Leno Show to 11:30 p.m. and shift The Tonight Show to a midnight start, according to Leno.

“I said, ‘Talk to Conan. If he’ll do 12, I’ll do a half-hour. I’ll do a monologue and one guest,” Leno said. “And of course Conan didn’t do that. … And they put me back in at 11:30, and we became #1 again.”

Leno’s tenure on The Tonight Show ended in February 2014.

Leno’s discussion with Maher came one month after Jimmy Kimmel, a longtime Leno detractor, shared his own perspective on the matter on the same podcast.

“Jay knew [the 10 p.m.] lead-in was very important … and if his show failed, it would make The Tonight Show ratings dropped,” Kimmel said. “Conan had a bad lead-in from Jay. … It’s somewhat diabolical, don’t you think?”

Meanwhile, The Tonight Show with current host Jimmy Fallon is consistently rating below The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. In fact, Jimmy Kimmel Live! recent topped Fallon’s ratings for the first time since Kimmel’s show began airing 18 years ago, according to Deadline.

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  1. AS JAY SAID A LONG TIME AGO TELEVISION IS A NASTY BUSINESS
    Conan agreed to NBC kneecapping Jay while Jay was number one, got the show, and did not make it work. Jay did not want to do the 10:00 p.m. show but now he’s being accused of doing it lousy so it would hurt Conan. This is silly
    Lots of people were waiting for Conan to do The Tonight show, but he was too quirky for that show that has a 65 year history, so he lost the prior audience.

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