In a candid interview with Oprah Winfrey airing on Thursday, Jay Leno opened up about the NBC shakeup regarding The Tonight Show, saying he felt “sucker-punched” by his recent guest Jimmy Kimmel, felt “devastated” when the network asked him six years ago to stand aside for Conan O’Brien and admitted to his current up-hill battle to become the good guy again.
“A lot of damage control” has to take place Leno said. He has been blamed for NBC’s decision to reinstate him in his former 11:35 pm late-night slot. O’Brien refused to push back the air time for The Tonight Show, fueling the fire between the late-night hosts. “I’m going to work hard to rehabilitate [the bad guy] image.”
Leno also addressed Kimmel’s appearance during a Leno show a few weeks back during which Kimmel slammed him during their interview. “I got sucker-punched,” Leno said, revealing that he opted against editing the portion out.
“You get right up again [after getting hit]. You don’t whine and complain.”
Addressing NBC’s decision to give O’Brien The Tonight Show to keep him at the network six years ago- despite the fact that Leno was still topping the ratings- the host admitted he had never planned to retire, despite saying so on-air. “I told a little white lie,” he said. “It made it easier that way.”
“It broke my heart, it really did…I was devastated.”
As for the future, he hopes that O’Brien will return to late-night television soon, allowing a fair competition between Leno, nemesis David Letterman and O’Brien.
“I hope Conan gets a job somewhere else and we all compete together. And the best man wins.”