Jay Leno Comes Clean on 'Oprah'

The late-night vet opens up for the first time about the 'Tonight Show' debacle

We've heard a lot about Jay Leno these last few weeks, but not much from him. That changes when he appears on today's Oprah Winfrey Show for his first sit-down about the recent NBC late-night mess.  

Leno has always cultivated an affable, goofy guy persona. But his public image has been seriously tarnished, ever since NBC decided earlier this month to cancel his primetime gig (ratings flop The Jay Leno Show) and reinstate him as Tonight Show host. The fallout stoked sympathy for Conan O'Brien (who essentially resigned when told The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien would move to a 12:05 p.m. time slot) -- especially after O'Brien's candid statement, addressed to "People of Earth," blasted the network's handling of his Tonight Show gig. No counter-statement was ever released by Leno, and the presumption is that Leno got what he wanted, namely, the Tonight Show back.

As Leno emerged looking like the villain, O'Brien didn't exactly burnish Leno's image in his final week on air. "I had a really weird day," he said in one monologue. "When I got to work this morning, there was 1923 Duesenberg parked in my spot." It was a silly crack about Leno's beloved cars, but it implied that Leno happily went along with NBC's plan to dethrone O'Brien just seven months after handing him the title of Tonight Show host.

In the interview, Oprah plainly states that "America has taken sides, and a lot of people are not on your side," and she poses tough questions. "When they asked you to go back, did you ever think 'I'm taking away Conan's dream?'" she asks. "'Did you ever ask yourself, 'Well, am I being selfish?'" 

On Oprah's set, Leno looks pained at times, which is startling because the 59-year-old show-biz veteran so rarely reveals emotion. Notably, the comic admits he hasn't discussed the late-night meltdown with O'Brien:

Winfrey: Have you talked to Conan in person?

Leno: I haven’t talked to him through all this.  No. I haven’t.

Winfrey: Did you want to pick up the phone?

Leno: Yeah, but it didn’t seem appropriate.

Winfrey: Why?

Leno: I don’t know.  I think it -- let things cool down and maybe we’ll talk, you know.

Leno's future ratings may hinge on viewers' perception of his role in the programming fiasco, and today's interview shows a side to him we rarely see. Meanwhile, Team Conan is awaiting the next dispatch from their embattled hero, letting "People of Earth" know when he'll tell his side of the story.

Plus: Who do you side with in the Jay vs. Conan Showdown?

Do you think Jay Leno has behaved selfishly? Chime in below!

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