Leno to Oprah: Conan's Low Ratings Were 'Destructive'

Bruised in the Tonight Show flap, Leno tells his side of the story on The Oprah Winfrey Show

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For his first interview following the NBC late-night fiasco, Jay Leno appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He's attempting to restore his image before he returns to the Tonight show in March. His reputation was badly damaged, with many people inside the media and outside accusing him of stealing O'Brien's job. And it was believed Leno would get an easy interview, since he and Winfrey are friends. Not the case. Oprah threw him a number of hardballs. Two stick out in particular:

Oprah: "Did you ever ask yourself, Well, am I being selfish?"

Leno: "Sure, yeah, you ask yourself that every day."

Oprah: "And your answer was...is?"

Leno: "I don't think so. I mean, I like the job, I like all that goes with it. I fight for the people who work here. I fight to keep the jobs here. OK, is that selfish? Maybe it is, because it's self-aggrandizing, maybe because it's pumping me up."

She also asked him about the mounting acrimony against him:

Oprah: "America has taken sides...And a lot of people are not on your side. And they're not on your side because they think... you took the job away from Conan."

Leno: "It all comes down to numbers in show business. This is almost the perfect storm of bad things happening. You have two hit shows -- 'Tonight Show' No. 1 and Conan No. 1. You move them both to another situation. And what are the odds that both would do extremely poorly? If Conan's numbers had been a little bit higher, it wouldn't even be an issue. But in show business, there's always somebody waiting in the wings. Being me."

One of the more contentious comments Leno made during the interview, was when he said Conan's low Tonight Show ratings were "destructive to the franchise." This is in line with what he and NBC chief Jeff Zucker have been saying for weeks. However many, including O'Brien, contend that Leno's feeble lead-in hurt the Tonight Show ratings more than anything else.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.