Jay Leno Tells ’60 Minutes’ He’d Prefer To Keep ‘Tonight’ Roost

Tonight Show With Jay Leno

Farewell interview surfaces as NBC is trying to lure viewers to idea of Jimmy Fallon as host

All things considered, Jay Leno would rather stay behind the desk of NBC’s venerable “Tonight Show.”

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that could serve to undermine some of the hoopla surrounding NBC’s promotional efforts to launch Jimmy Fallon as the next host of its latenight mainstay, Leno tells “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft, ““Well, it’s always nice to keep working. Sure it is… But am I extremely grateful. Yeah.” The segment is slated to air Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

Leaving the program after a tenure of more than 20 years (well, with one major interruption) is “not my decision and I think I probably would have stayed if we didn’t have an extremely qualified, young guy ready to jump in,” Leno also said in the interview. He praised his successor, saying that Fallon “is probably more like a young Johnny [Carson] than almost anybody since. And he’s really good. So you go with the new guy. Makes perfect sense to me.”

The interview will air just as NBC has commenced a major marketing initiative aimed at generating viewership for the launch of a New York-based, Fallon-led “Tonight” set to debut February 17 – just as NBC is in the midst of broadcasting a sure-fire ratings hit: The Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia. Already, NBC has launched a promo depicting Fallon as the latest in a line of the show’s handful of hosts, which include Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Leno, and Conan O’Brien. In another, Fallon plays up the program’s return to New York City for the first time in decades:

NBC’s wee-hours transition will likely be under much scrutiny. Why? When the company was under different management, it attempted to transition from Leno to a new host, with disastrous results. In 2009, Leno was pushed out from behind the desk in favor of Conan O’Brien, but given a five-days-a-week berth in NBC’s primetime in an effort to keep the latenight mainstay from venturing elsewhere. The ill-advised shuffle  sparked outcry from NBC affiliates who thought low ratings for Leno’s 10 p.m. roost were wiping away viewership for late local news, a large contributor to stations’ ad revenue. As a result, Leno returned to “Tonight” and O’Brien left the network altogether.

The move, Leno said in the “60 Minutes” interview, left him feeling “blindsided.” NBC executives made him feel jilted, he added during the talk:  “You know, you have a girl [who] says, ‘I don’t want to see you anymore.’  Why? You know, she doesn’t want to see you anymore, okay?” Leno also said he felt awful when NBC’s decision to return him to “Tonight” had many seeing him as a villain in the ensuing drama.   “I didn’t quite understand that, but I never chose to answer any of those things or make fun of any other people involved,” he said. “It’s not my way.”

Leno previously gave Kroft an interview in 1992,  when he took over the program from Johnny Carson. The succession process spurred David Letterman, then the host of “Late Night,” the show that followed Carson, to decamp to CBS to start a rival program at 11:30 p.m.

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  1. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    Ageist anti-ethnic bean counter suits will never learn. Late night TV is the media realm of old souls, night owls and folks who can’t sleep. Millennial kids are too busy with poison pop culture, texting, playing video games and hanging out online to ever show mass network TV show loyalty. The only way Fallon makes it is if he turns Tonight into a hybrid of SNL with half skits and half talk to show off his improv roots.

  2. Jimmy Fallon is not funny and although Jay is a really great guy, he stopped being funny about 20 years ago.

  3. michael says:

    Nbc is making a big mistake, Leno is much funnier than fallon, jimmy falon is boring and mostly act and play games fas for 8 years olds

  4. Martin says:

    Find a way to clone Johnny Carson.

  5. Does Leno have any shame whatsoever? The original transition to Conan was hardly a surprise. What was the surprise was the decision to give him a 9:00 show which killed NBC’s ratings and undermined both local newscasts and the Tonight Show, coupled with a contract that basically guaranteed he’d get the Tonight Show back after failing in the earlier time slot. Thanks heavens NBC management has changed since then and does not seem to be making the same mistake, despite Leno’s obvious unwillingness to leave gracefully. His act was tired years ago.

  6. No one can’t replace Jay Leno. Will it fail again. Let’s see what happens when Jimmy Fallon host the show.

  7. Jacques Strappe says:

    Comedy has changed to be more sketch based, absurdist and meta, for better or worse. Leno’s style feels dated and cheesy, something contemporary comics mock. The real unknown is whether Leno’s older audience will embrace Fallon and his jumpier delivery and meta references. It didn’t work out so well for Conan whose humor is more closely aligned with Fallon’s than Leno’s. I understand NBC’s desire to appeal to a younger, more ad friendly demo in Fallon.

  8. KC says:

    Jay has earned his millions of fans and they will follow wherever he goes. Break a leg (not a chin)!

  9. Jay is far better than any of the other late-night talent, and his ratings prove it.

    Fallon seems like a nice guy, but his show is boring. The same is true of Conan, who is better; and Letterman and the others.

    One has to assume that Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes (i.e., chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group) are very smart, and will hire Leno as soon as he is free from NBC contractually. CNN might be a bidder too.

    It would be a no-brainer; for example, NBC does not own the studio in which Leno films his show. Thus, Fox could pick up that too. In essence, Leno would not have to do a thing except sign a new multi-year contract, and report for duty as always.

    He would continue to blow the competition off the charts.

  10. david gustafson says:

    neither is seth meyers.hes great for small things like weekend update but ive never seen him do comedy.fallon is rock star.he has great cast like tina fey and the roots.

    • mattheww says:

      Jimmy Fallon is definitely a more viable “Tonight Show” host than Conan O’Brien ever was, so the audience may not reject him outright the way they did O’Brien. Still, this feels like a bonehead move. Young people may prefer Fallon to Leno, but young people do not watch these sorts of shows; it’s mainly older people who are still in that habit, so it’s possible ratings will take another dive after this handover too. NBC probably can’t bring back Leno a third time regardless, or they’d pretty much have to let him die in his chair. But my guess is some of them will want to.

  11. Bruce Parker says:

    The whole “starring” Jimmy Fallon change has turned me off. Fallon isn’t humble enough for “with” but he certainly isn’t a “star” either! And booking the Dear Leader’s wife the first week tells us a lot, too!
    Thanks, Jay!!! We’ll miss you!!

    • Smooth says:

      It’s time for your nap grandpa, go and dream of someone humble and out of work. Alright Jimmy Fallon, it’s show time. It’s the “Tonight Show STARRING Jimmy Fallon”, with Special Guest “The First Lady of the United States of America” Michelle Obama. Hey Mike call the Coroner, grandpa just crossed over.

      • Late Nite Watcher says:

        Fallon is not a star yet by any means, he is just a sketch actor. His monologue delivery is weak. Not a Leno or a Carson. Not even a Conan O’Brien. Programming fail: Michelle Obama is a great reason to change channels or turn off the set. This woman wastes more taxpayer money than most congressman. She’s like an Imelda Marcos. Falion needs to stop pandering to the Democrats, he will alienate 50% or more of his potential audience.

  12. Pat Trent says:

    I will miss Jay Leno. I like him very much. I don’t know if I wil watch Jimmy Fallon. and his show…
    not crazy about a New York based Tonight Show either…

    • Ralph M. Hahn says:

      “The Tonight Show” aired from NBC Studio 6B from Jack Paar (correct spelling) in 1957 until Johnny Carson flew to Burbank in 1972. Johnny taped 10 years of “Tonight” in 6B. Not only is NBC bringing the show back to New York, it’s bringing it back to 6B, where Jimmy Fallon had been taping Late Night since he assumed host duties. He’s been in Studio 6A while 6B is undergoing major renovations. Late Night with Seth Myers will be taped in Studio 8G the original home for “Jeopardy.”

  13. Quinton says:

    I like Jimmy Fallon and I’m excited to see how he does, but everyone gives Jay Leno shit, like he’s the bad guy when he’s obviously been pushed out for someone younger. Twice. Cut the guy some slack and let’s just blame NBC.

    • juju says:

      The true “PUPPET MASTER” in this Machiavellian plot is Lorne Michaels. He seems to have been gunning for Leno for many years. I find him creepy!

  14. Florida viewer says:

    I like Jay Leno, but I’m a little disappointed to have read today elsewhere that he agrees with those who say Edward Snowden is a traitor, something a court of law hasn’t determined as a fact. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. I’m sure the British in the mid 1700s felt the same way about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, etc. Leno’s got free speech today because of people who said “Enough” to government control of our thoughts and actions. I think it might be hard for Leno to stay as host now that he’s made it clear he’s a conservative in Hollywood. I don’t care what his views are personally, but I don’t want to know them either.

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