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Does Anybody Believe Jay Leno Is Just Fine With Leaving the Tonight Show?

In a 60 Minutes interview, Jay has only nice things to say about Jimmy Fallon. But don't get the wrong impression.

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CBS has released excerpts of a 60 Minutes interview with Jay Leno airing Sunday. In this clip, he says some nice things about Jimmy Fallon, the young man who will replace him on The Tonight Show next month. He likens Fallon to Johnny Carson and says that NBC has “an extremely qualified young guy ready to jump in… So you go with the new guy. Makes perfect sense to me.”

But: Fallon is replacing Jay in the same fashion and for the same reasons as did extremely qualified young guy Conan O’Brien, a transition that you may recall did not play out so smoothly. He is replacing him, when—just like in 2009—Jay is still leading his time slot. And as Jay also says to 60 Minutes, if he had his druthers, he would have stayed at The Tonight Show.

There are two ways, then, to read this: Jay is really OK with retiring this time. Or: Jay is biding his time. Call me crazy, but I’m going with #2.

I am not a mind-reader, but I think here as always you can understand Jay’s comments by understanding a few simple principles: Jay is a pro. Jay is canny. Jay is all business. And Jay loves to work.

So: Jay Leno says he understands NBC’s decision. I’m sure he does! He didn’t just fall off the 1920s vintage turnip truck. He knows this business.

But here are a few things “I understand” does not mean: 1) “I like it.” 2) “I agree with it.” 3) “I will do nothing to undermine this enterprise in the future, should it prove to be in my interests.” 4) “If you’ll excuse me now, I’m going off to the garage, where I shall tinker with my cars for the rest of my life.”

I interviewed Jay around the Tonight transition in 2009, and he explained his philosophy about speaking diplomatically: “There’s the close-the-goddam-window school of thought,and there’s the is-it-cold-in-here-or-is-it-me? school of thought. I come from the is-it-cold-in-here? school.”

It’s not 2009 anymore. This time, it’s more in Jay’s interests to play nicely. He has less leverage against NBC—ABC’s 11:35 spot is now spoken for, e.g., and he’s not going to get another 10 p.m. show out of NBC to keep him busy until he can be re-installed. And he doesn’t want to come off as the bad guy the same way he did in the 2009-10 Jaypocalypse. (And incidentally, when Jay was, as he now says, “blindsided” in 2004, he originally had only the best to say about Conan and NBC’s decision.) This time, even if Fallon does no better than Conan in the ratings, the Tonight Show is gone, and I think Jay is savvy enough to realize it.

But that doesn’t mean Jay is gone, at least if anyone gives him a reasonable alternative.

And by the way—God bless him for it! I may not love him as a talk-show host, and I may have thought Conan was set up to fail in the Jaypocalypse, but it’s not a federal crime to want to stay in show business. And if Jay gets that chance—from CNN or Fox or some cable channel or streaming service or brain-implant device to be named later—he’ll take it, and congrats, Jimmy, I look forward to competing with ya!

Now, I have no idea if he will get that chance. But let’s just say a window is open. Because I think I just heard Jay Leno say that it’s cold in here.

12 comments
msteel271
msteel271

I gave Leno plenty of flack in 2009, but I can't help but sympathize when you look at things from his perspective.  He's now been fired from the Tonight Show twice, while he was #1 in the ratings both times.  The first time he bore the brunt of the blame for the network's brutal mismanagement/incompetence through the whole ordeal.  This time, they seem to know what they're doing, but...it's still pretty cold.

DonaldRoyAtkins
DonaldRoyAtkins

Leno says he is not interested in competing with the other remaining late night players. But what is to stop a surprise phone call from David Letterman suggesting they share his CBS show? Letterman might propose either alternate nights or each doing one week followed by a week off. This would give Letterman time to slow down and spend more time with his son. Pure wild speculation of course but the two men were once friends and Letterman has expressed his puzzlement at NBC's treatment of Leno.

andytow62
andytow62

jay has a lot of responsibility to his cars, it is time to get to know each and every one

curtisjones
curtisjones

You may not like Leno, but at least he puts some effort into it every night.  Evidently someone's noticing, he's #1, as usual, in all the major demos.  Letterman has been phoning it in for at least 10 years, and it is painfully obvious.

TheDers
TheDers

all late night shows are BORING!!! they are not even funny. unless satirical, run of the mill, political humor. is all you care about, then sure. but every single one of these shows is run by their networks with an IRON FIST. no creativity, originality...or BALLS! all of these shoes were made from the same cookie cuter. just different dough.

DrMan
DrMan

I love (meaning I loathe) these people who think Leno gives a flying fig what they think (I'm talking to you openminded1). Leno made it clear decades ago that working was the center of his life, and it will be, long after he leaves The Tonight Show.

Openminded1
Openminded1

Jay Leno is a nice guy but a very insecure talent and sore loser, his time has come and gone. None of these late night guys were ever as good as Carson and never will be. fallon is a silly little man and not that funny, they all have their good moments . Jay had a good run but it is his time to retire and do some specials once in awhile go spend is money and enjoy life.

ByronSullivan
ByronSullivan

Yea, I personally like Kimmel. I remember all those "Man Show" episodes with Adam Carolla and have a good chuckle, You know, minus the blatant sexism.

RudolphDavis
RudolphDavis

Just watched Leno and Fallon. I don't know why, but Leno wasn't as boring as Jimmy Fallon..


this is my late night show top 5 list:


1. CONAN

2. Jay Leno; Stephen Colbert

3. Jimmy Kimmel

4. Jimmy Fallon; David Letterman

5. Craig Ferguson

Jimmy_
Jimmy_

Agree about Letterman.  Something tells me he think about retiring if Leno stays away.

TheDers
TheDers

shoes?!?!?!........shows!!! you moron. Tard cant even spell.

NishiHundan1
NishiHundan1

@Openminded1 Johnny Carson was a master interviewer and knew how to work his guests. Conan, while very funny, has always sucked at interviewing and Fallon is worse at it. How can you host the Tonight Show when you can't interview people? Only Letterman has the interview chops, but sadly, he stopped being funny years ago.