There’s two more weeks left of Jay Leno’s second reign as The Tonight Show host on NBC before Jimmy Fallon is set to replace him, and while he’s certainly not putting up a fight about leaving, he’s not exactly pleased that he’s been pushed out again, as he tells 60 Minutes in an interview set to air on CBS Sunday night.
Asked if he’d have liked to have stayed, Leno responds:
“It’s 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. [Jimmy 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.”
That statement is a testament not only to how good Fallon is, but how well Fallon has handled the whole situation himself. Turning on Fallon would be like turning on a puppy dog, and not even Leno is capable of that. Of course, the converse of that statement — “I think I would have stayed if we didn’t have an extremely qualified, young guy to step in” — suggests that perhaps Leno didn’t think that of Conan O’Brien when he took over in 2009. To that point, Leno is still upset about NBC’s decision in 2004, saying he felt blindsided.
“I was blindsided … [NBC executives said] ‘You’re out…’ and I went ‘OK.’ ” He added that he didn’t ask the execs why they made their decision. “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, OK?”
He didn’t like being depicted as the villain, either.
I didn’t quite understand that, but I never chose to answer any of those things or make fun of any other people involved. It’s not my way.”
It’s not his way. No, his way is to hide in a closet and eavesdrop on conversations between NBC executives. Still, though I’ve never been a fan of Leno, the warming of relations between he and Letterman in recent years, and Leno’s episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has at least allowed me to see him as human. I won’t be sad to see him go, but I do respect his tenure on The Tonight Show.