Jay Leno’s statement on the Late Night Crisis: “If you don’t get the ratings, they take you off the air” (UPDATED WITH VIDEO)

Jay_leno Jay Leno addresses the Late Night Crisis on 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, ‘Tthat 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?

“Okay. So then, the affiliates are not happy. The affiliates are the ones that own the TV stations. They’re the ones that sort of make the decisions, they’re not happy with your performance and Conan is not doing well at 11:30. I said, ‘What’s your idea?’ They said, ‘Well, look, how about you do a half hour show at 11:30?’ Now, where I come from, when your boss gives you a job and you don’t do it well, I think we did a good job here, but we didn’t get the ratings, so you get humbled. I said, ‘Okay, I’m not crazy about doing a half hour, but okay. What do you want to do with Conan?’ ‘We’ll put him on at midnight, or 12:05, keeps “The Tonight Show,” does all that, he gets the whole hour.’ I said, ‘Okay. You think Conan will go for that?’ ‘Yes, yes. (laughter) Almost guarantee you.’ I said okay. Shake hands, that’s it. I don’t have a manager, I don’t have an agent, that’s my handshake deal.

“Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that. They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, ‘Yeah, I’ll take the show back. If that’s what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.’ So that’s pretty much where we are. It looks like we might be back at 11:30, I’m not sure. I don’t know. (applause) I don’t know. But through all of this – through all of this, Conan O’Brien has been a gentleman. He’s a good guy. I have no animosity towards him. This is all business. If you don’t get the ratings, they take you off the air. I think you know this town, you can do almost anything. You get ratings, they keep you. I don’t get ratings, he wants. That was NBC’s solution. It didn’t work, so we might have an answer for you tomorrow. So, we’ll see. That’s basically where it is.”

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  1. Kitty says:

    Uh, Ken? So now Conan’s staff will be out of work. I’m sure he has ties to them and would like to keep them working too.
    Anyway, Jay’s account is so disingenuous (Hey, I was just standing over there! None of it had anything to do with me!) that it actually makes me respect him even less. Plus, he’s not funny, so there you go.

  2. Susan says:

    For the people who are calling Jay a liar, what complete idiots are you? Did you not listen or read a single thing that was said? He couldn’t walk away from his contract, they wouldn’t let him. He obviously stated several times, can you release me from my contract, and they said no! Just because you THINK that if you were in that situation you would have just walked away then your completely daft. Puting all of those people out of work, well good for you for only thinking about yourself.

  3. Ken says:

    you all seem to miss the point that if Jay walked away like most of you think he should have, 175+ people would be out of work. He’s worked with those people for over a decade, and you form strong ties with people in situations like that. He’s seen some of them get married, and his last show had a list of all the babies that were born to his staffers over the years. If those people matter at all to him, he’ll keep them working.
    Anyway, you’re all hypocrites, as if any of you would turn down tens of millions of dollars to take back the 11:30 timeslot!
    Conan can be funny, but in no way, shape, or form was he ready or equipped to take over the tonight show. I had my doubts about Leno when he took over from Johnny, but it took only a few months for Jay to win me over. Conan was OK in his old timeslot, and I had hopes that he would evolve quickly into the right kind of host for the tonight show, but I was proven wrong. For the first time in years, at 11:35 I would switch to Nightline.
    NBC were idiots for forcing Leno out, but I guess they felt that Conan could hurt them if he went to another network at 11:35, so the gambled on him, as he gambled as well…
    Guess what? they both lost.

  4. alfie bail says:

    Conan would have been fired, with Jay coming back or without Jay coming back.

  5. Geoff says:

    Jay, I love your show and totally understand your conundrum, but I think given your time on the “tonight show” and the “retirement” that maybe a better solution would have been to have been for you to support the Conan show and walk away.
    Here is why:
    Yes it is true that his ratings have suffered, but at first glance it is apparent he did not have the support of a regular prime time Television drama ahead of his show. It maybe true that your show had better ratings (while on the tonight show) during his time slot, but that was when there was late night dramas running before your show. The whole point of Jay at 10 was an experiment which in all honesty didn’t go over well. Not exactly your fault, because it is a different demographic at 10 pm than regular hours.
    As a television viewer I can honestly tell you I did not like the variety show idea that you appear on from the get go. Why? Because people want to be entertained, by being taken from their own realities into another world or life at that hour. Why you ask? Because most Americans lives revolve around work and going into a job they don’t like and would like a little escape. I think NBC doesn’t understand this concept, and that is why they thought the Jay show at 10 would be a blast.
    The fact is people like to escape for that 2-3 hours they have of personal time, and not sit in a realistic situation with news being rebroadcast with with some jokes inserted. Which in all honesty is what the tonight show’s monologue is, and that is the premise behind your entire show too. So you can easily see the dilemma if you are creating jokes off of the same news that Conan will bee forced to as well, that his jokes won’t be as strong (I for one don’t like watching the same crap twice). For simple terms that NBC can understand this is called ‘milking the cow dry”
    Here is the real problem as I see it:
    So the minute you lose the 10 o’clock drama viewers, you also automatically lose the late night viewers. Why? it is this simple, people are that lazy that they don’t change the channel when they are dozing off to sleep for the next day. So when there is a crap show on at 10, then viewers automatically tune out, which in turn reduces Conan’s audience. And they leave will in fact letterman on. If you don’t think Americans are this lazy at this hour then think again, because they are not.
    I’m not saying this is your fault, but the reality is that the 10 pm show didn’t work and you need to lick your wounds and retire. There is nothing wrong with passing the torch to Conan. He will be fine with a regular 10 pm drama lineup, just give the guy a chance.
    Oh yeah, since I know the rating agencies are wondering this: I am 30 years old, spend $100 a month on new clothes, go out drinking and by good beer, and buy a shitload of electronics. For now, I’ll be waiting to see what happens, but in all honesty I want a younger show. Period, enough with the “depends” people……seriously .
    Just my two cents.

  6. Ed says:

    Very honest and sober account. I love conan but he didn’t get a rating. They should have kept him at 1235.

  7. RR says:

    Jay Leno, you are officially the Brett Favre of television. Congratulations on being a liar and a jerk.

  8. Hank says:

    What a load of crap. He could have walked. He such a sap. His handshake is his word, what about the agreement of this is my last show, moving on, etc. Jay is a liar and has no character.

  9. Ana says:

    Oh the TV business. NBC is the culprit. Plain and simple. I am not a fan of Jay and I stopped watching Conan, but I support them both for a resolution.

  10. TeamCoco says:

    One big LIAR stamp on this. Leno, you are a LIAR.

  11. R says:

    Oops, liar medley! lol

  12. R says:

    I wish I had the Stephanie Miller “Liar” melody to play right now.

  13. HDpunk says:

    the classy thing would have been to not agree with bumping a fellow late night host, much less taking back the tonight show after nbc kicked conan to the curb.

  14. Ed says:

    What a hypocrite. You had the opportunity to just walk away and retire; take the high road. You’re a complete friggin’ hypocrite Jay Leno. I used to like you. Not anymore.

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