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Jay Leno Denies Sabotaging Conan O’Brien’s ‘Tonight Show’ Gig: ‘It Doesn’t Work That Way’

Leno is speaking out again on the "Tonight Show" drama that led to O'Brien hosting the NBC late-night show for one season.

Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno

Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno


Jay Leno is once again addressing the long-running controversy surrounding “The Tonight Show” hosting gig over a decade ago when Conan O’Brien got the boot after just one season.

During a recent episode of Bill Maher’s “Club Random” podcast, Leno denied that he “deliberately sabotaged” the NBC late-night talk show after O’Brien took over in 2009 following Leno’s departure to lead “The Jay Leno Show” at the 10 p.m. time slot at the same network. He later returned as “The Tonight Show” host in 2010, prompting O’Brien to part ways with NBC and instead develop a new show, “Conan,” at TBS.

“That doesn’t work,” Leno stated of any pre-meditated plans to overhaul O’Brien. “It doesn’t work that way. You try and do the best you can and it didn’t work.”

As for why Leno opted to stay at NBC for his own short-lived talk show, he said, “Sometimes the czar you have is better than the one you’re going to. Then you have your old team shooting at you as well. I just figured let’s just play this out and see what happens. This all happened fairly quickly.”

The “Jay Leno’s Garage” comedian admitted to calling Jimmy Kimmel about joining ABC, where “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is at, but he never followed up with Kimmel after deciding to stay at NBC.

“I suppose I should have called Jimmy and explained to him again, but I didn’t,” Leno explained. “I don’t know why I didn’t. I just didn’t. I thought he probably would figure it out. But I think maybe he was hurt by that, and I apologized to him for that.”

In 2014, “Saturday Night Live” alum Jimmy Fallon took over hosting duties at “The Tonight Show.” Recently, O’Brien concluded “Conan” on TBS.

Reflecting on the drama surrounding the late night hosting game of musical chairs at NBC, O’Brien told “60 Minutes” in 2010 that he would never do what Leno did.

“He went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know — I know me, I wouldn’t have done that,” O’Brien said at the time, adding he would not have “surrendered ‘The Tonight Show’ and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well — and then …six months later [reclaimed it].”

Instead, O’Brien would have “done something else, go someplace else,” much like he did with TBS.

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