On the same night Conan O’Brien returned to TBS with a just barely reinvented version of his late-night talk show, his old nemesis Jay Leno sat down for a rare interview Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. And during a customary round of “Plead the Fifth,” the former Tonight Show host revealed that he has no regrets about essentially stealing that show back from O’Brien after initially ceding the spotlight to him nearly a decade ago.
“If you could go back and redo one thing during the time from when Conan took over for you on the Tonight Show and then after 10 months you came back to the Tonight Show, what would it be?” Andy Cohen asked his guest.
Without any hesitation, Leno replied, “I can’t think of anything I’d do different.”
“Look, they’re ratings-based shows,” he continued. “People act like it’s your decision. ‘Well, you know, I think I’ll go back.’ The network makes these decisions. They decide when you’re going to leave and they decide they want you to come back. So there’s not a lot different I would have done.”
Five years before he “retired” from The Tonight Show, NBC announced that in 2009, Leno would be stepping down and the then Late Night host would take his place. But after O’Brien struggled to maintain the show’s ratings, the network reversed course and asked Leno, who had then started hosting his own primetime hour, to come back to the 11:30 p.m. time slot, pushing O’Brien back to after midnight.
As Leno said, it was not his “decision,” but of course he could have said no. Instead, he jumped at the chance to reclaim his own show and O’Brien ultimately landed at TBS after his nasty split from NBC.
At another point on Tuesday night’s show, Cohen asked Leno about his other infamous late-night feud with David Letterman. The Bravo host wanted to know if there has been any talk around the idea of Leno going on Letterman’s new longform interview show on Netflix.
“Somebody might be talking about it, I’m not aware of it,” Leno said, confirming that no one has approached him about being a guest. If he was asked, Leno added, “Sure, I’d go on.”
“I would like to see that,” Cohen’s other guest, Judd Apatow, stated emphatically.
“We don’t hate each other,” Leno told them. “The media makes a big thing about it.”
He called himself a “huge fan” of Letterman’s, dating back to their early days performing stand-up on the same circuit in L.A. “I would watch him and go, ‘Oh man, how do you put those sentences together?’ And he would watch me and go, ‘How can you be so confident on stage?’ So I think we sort of took from each other a little bit.”