Leno on Oprah’s Show: Of 80,000 Respondents on Oprah.com Poll, 96% Were Against Jay. Oprah: You Could Have Walked Away. Leno: That Would Have Been an Ego Decision, Telling My Staff ‘Good Luck Finding Jobs.’ Oprah: Really?

Jan 29, 2010  •  Post A Comment

Here’s a partial transcript from the end of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" yesterday when she had Jay Leno as her sole guest. In this portion of the interview, Oprah brings up the question of why Leno just didn’t walk way from NBC after the network canceled his 10 pm show. It’s a question she had asked him earlier in the show as well. You can find a complete transcript of the show at AllYourTV.com.

–Chuck Ross

OPRAH WINFREY (Recorded Voice-Over set to video footage of Jay and Conan): We asked viewers to weigh in on the Jay versus Conan controversy. About
80,000 of you responded to our Oprah.com poll. When asked whose side are you on,
Jay’s or Conan’s, a staggering 96% of you said Conan. And 94% of you believe Jay
should not go back to "The Tonight Show."

Winfrey (now talking directly to Leno): Honestly, you know, we’re not like friends talking all the time but I think over the years we’ve developed a friendly relationship. So many people
were against you. We did an Oprah.com poll, and there were so many people who
were on Conan’s side, that I started asking like do I have it wrong? Am I
missing something here? Because the way I understood it is the way that you’ve
explained it.

LENO: Right, right.

WINFREY: So the fact that so many people seem to feel that you are being the
selfish guy…

LENO: Right.

WINFREY: …who–that’s why I’m asking you the questions, who stole Conan’s dream?
That’s why I keep, you know, hammering on is there a part of you that feels that
you should have just retired?

LENO: Well, like I say, to me, being retired seemed like the selfish thing
to do.


LENO: You walk out and say to the 170 people that work here, "Listen, I
don’t want to get my reputation ruined, I don’t want anybody talking bad about
me. So I’ve got enough money, I’m going to leave. You people can all fend for
yourself." I mean to me, it’s sort of a team effort. Everybody’s in it here
together, and as long I’m working, they’re working and that seems to make sense
to me.

Is it a little selfish in that I still like being on TV? Oh, sure. But,
you know, the minute you can’t do the job, they do tap you on the shoulder and
tell you to leave. I mean, nobody is around who can’t do the job because you’re
gone, you’re gone in a half a second.

WINFREY: Did you feel bad for Conan at any point?

LENO: I did, I felt really bad for Conan. I think it’s unfair, but TV is not
fair. I thought it was unfair for me.

WINFREY: You felt that for Conan, but you didn’t think you caused–you were the
reason …

LENO: No, I wasn’t the reason. The reason was the ratings.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. Do you have regrets?

LENO: Oh, yeah, I do have regrets. I regret that it wasn’t handled better.
I’m just not sure what I could have done differently.

WINFREY: Lots of people say you could have walked away.

LENO: Again, by walking away, that is an ego decision. That is me going,
"No, goodbye, everybody, you know something? I’m fed up with this. You-all fend
for yourselves. Good luck finding jobs, I’m out of here. To me, that’s the ego
decision, not the other one.

WINFREY: Is it, really?

LENO: Oh, yeah, I think so, I think so. Like …

WINFREY: How is it an ego decision for you to say I’ve done it, I’ve done "The
Tonight Show," I’ve tried it prime time, that didn’t work. Thank you, NBC. I’ll
take my paycheck and go."

LENO: If I was going to do it that way I would say maybe after these two
years of being on the air, I would tell my staff, "One year from today, it’s
over, guys."

WINFREY: But you could have done what–do you think now you could have done what
Conan did? When they came in and said your prime time show’s canceled, you say
okay, you owe me two years, because that’s what you said at the beginning.

LENO: Right, right.

WINFREY: You were guaranteed at least a year.

LENO: Right.

WINFREY: Two years if you were successful.

LENO: Right.

WINFREY: Pay me out, pay out my staff. You could have done that.

LENO: I could have done that, but I didn’t. They offered me my old job back.

WINFREY: Right, I get that.

LENO: Which is the dream job. I said okay.

WINFREY: Is there a bigger lesson in all of this?

LENO: The key is not to be bitter and I think Conan said it best when he
said don’t be cynical.

WINFREY: Mm-hmm. And yet you said earlier you haven’t called him?

LENO: It’s not the right time, because I’m not sure what I would say right
now. Let some time pass and I would hope we can talk again.

WINFREY: Will you have him on your show?

LENO: I would love to. I don’t know whether he would do it or not. I think
he will have a successful show on Fox or somewhere else.

WINFREY: Wherever he goes.

LENO: And then we will all compete again and may the best man win.


  1. Jay…What a douche!

  2. TV is a business about ratings. NBC chose Leno way back when over sentimental favorite (and Carson-selected) Letterman because they thought Jay was more like Carson. And they were right. After the Hugh Grant interview, Leno enjoyed a 13-year run clobbering Letterman in the ratings. Back when NBC made the decision to have Conan replace Jay, it seemed a good idea, to keep him off the competition, because O’Brien’s star was rising, even though Jay was firmly #1. Then a curious thing happened. Conan stopped growing as a host, doing a really bad job of hosting the Academy Awards for example, almost as bad as the job Letterman did, and NBC got nervous. I believe they held onto Jay last year as insurance against Conan losing the 11:30 franchise, which he did. As noted continuously on Oprah yesterday, TV is a business. It’s not about popularity so much as it is about ratings. Whether he can come back or not, no one can deny that Jay had the pre-Conan ratings at 11:30, where Conan (and pre-Conan-Dave) did not not. Personally, I think Kimmel will benefit the most from all this. His show has been really been taking off lately. But my opinion doesn’t matter, nor do viewer polls; it’s the ratings, driven by older audiences who don’t post responses to blogs or participate in online polls.

  3. Yeah right — it was about the team. Great spin. He’s pathological. I don’t care that much for any talk show, but Conan & Letterman are at least inventive. Jay is creaky. Well, may the right person win in the ratings. Hopefully Jay will go away soon.

  4. What about the fact Leno had such poor ratings wich affected the local new ratings, thus lowering the Tonight Show ratings. Would Leno have done as well with Carson at 10p?
    Also what about the people that worked for Conan? They had to re-locate across the country for the Tonight Show. Obviously Leno and his ego could care less about them. At least Leno’s people would have connections to find new jobs. Conan’s crew has been left in the cold thanks to Leno’s “lack of ego”. How selfish can one man be!

  5. TV has changed since the days of Carson. It is hard to say how viewers would be if Carson had a 10:00 pm show.
    I don’t think that Leno is in the wrong to look after the people he works for and himself. Conan had offers from other networks. This wasn’t so for Leno. Leno did when NBC booted him from The Tonight Show. He chose to stay loyal to NBC because they had a plan for him.
    What would you do if you were in his position especially knowing how the economy is and will your staff be able to find a job immediately?

  6. Yeah, but Leno took over in 1992 and the Hugh Grant interview wasn’t until 1995 so he had 3 YEARS of losing ratings. Conan was only on for 7 months!
    They gave Jay a LOT more time to start getting viewers than they gave Conan.

  7. Jay’s WORST moment was his ignorant reply to Oprah pointing out how many people he put out of work by doing a show 5 nights a week in primetime (he had been talking about his concern about saving the jobs of his own staff of 175).
    He says that it never dawned on him all the production people who he put out of work because he killed 5 hours of programming until after he started doing his new show. He just never thought about it. Instead of putting 175 people out of work, he ended up eliminating jobs for maybe a couple of thousand people.
    BTW – Jay’s “ego” comment was not even a slightly veiled diss at Conan. In the transcript (I also watched the show) Jay says “if I walked away it would be an ego thing” so Conan walking away – Jay basically said that Conan did that becuase of his ego.
    Jay is a LOSER and I’m not to thrilled with Mz. O right now either. They are obviously friends brought together by their mutual dislike of Letterman (Uma/Oprah) Oh, and no one believes for a minute that the Jimmy Kimmel bit on the Tonight Show was left in for any purpose other than making Jay look like a victim. Poor me, everyone hates me, pity me … waaaaaa.
    You’re a business man. Own it.

  8. I don’t know what he was thinking. It is a lose-lose for Jay. He left as the King of Late Night, but now is dissed (even by OPRAH!) for muscling out Conan and once back at 11:30 has nowhere to go but down. If his ratings are even a little off, he’ll get hammered and if Letterman starts to beat him, then God (and Comcast)help him!

  9. Why does anyone care? All these cry babies are getting paid vacations with tens of millions of dollars to keep them warm until they get their next gig at which point millions more will be thrown at them. Are worth it? I’m the same age as Jay and I’ve watched late night television regularly since I was a teenager and Carson was King. When I was in my twenties, Johnny was in his 50s, but he was the coolest dude on the earth. When he heard rumblings that the geniuses at NBC (yes, there were geniuses then too) thought he was getting too old, he never said a word. He waited for the annual NBC affiliate meeting in 1991 and after he was introduced to wild applause, he stepped up to the mic, delivered a few minutes of entertaining banter as he was asked to do by his network bosses, and then announced he would retire the following year on May 22, 1992, and while his bosses peed their pants, Johnny walked off stage to a shocked, silent audience of network and affiliate executives who understood they were watching their bottom line plummet as he walked out. Once he retired, he never appeared on NBC again. Johnny had class and knew he didn’t have to put up with the stooges that ran the network. Now we have Jay who has never been able to fill Johnny’s shoes with his stale humor, stiff presentation and formulated bits, and Conan who has never attempted to mature his comedy to appeal to the millions of new viewers he inherited who were not among the few that turned-on and tuned-in after midnight for his former Late Night sophomoric humor. The last man standing will be Letterman. Over the years, after open-heart surgery and the birth of his son, Dave turned from a moody curmudgeon into a really funny human being with feelings and the comedic timing and talent to identify with his audience while making them laugh about his personal problems and insecurities. And he has a brain, which Conan also has but does his best to dumb it down, and Jay definitely lacks. Now that the Jay habit has been broken and a number of Jay’s former fans have switched to Letterman’s Late Show, Dave will likely keep most of the audience that Conan lost once these new viewers start to understand Dave and his foibles, and Letterman will finally have the chance to follow in Johnny’s footsteps as Johnny always wanted. Good luck NBC. You’re gonna’ need it.

  10. Why do we care? Because this has hit a humanity chord. Jay is yet another pathological passive aggressive who has finally been outed. The current generation has a great distaste for phoneys.
    Oprah’s last point was the best when she reminded Jay who had mentioned his poor “staff” at least a dozen times, that a HUGE chunk of Conan’s severance went to his people. Why? Because he’s a human. Unlike Leno.
    Why do I say he’s pathological? Because on the one hand he made a HUGE point of wanting to only be a well-paid employee and had no desire to “own” a show. This was an attempt to make himself appear to be a “regular guy”. I call BS. Because in the next breath (many many times over) he referred to “his” staff. If he’s an employee, they are not his staff.
    I know people like him. I bet everyone does. THAT’S why people care.
    I hope viewers stay away from him and his new show.
    PS – He should run for office. He has all the ability and spin to his credit. I particularly like the way he has now made this about CONAN’S ratings!! HE was the one that got canned, then started weaseling around. Its CRYSTAL clear.

  11. A man’s word is everythoing.
    Leno has proven that his word is not worth the paper it’s printed on.
    That ‘s why 96% of humanity are against Leno.
    People don’t like snakes in the grass.
    Never have, never will.
    Learn to keep your word, it’ll take you a long way in life.

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