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Leno: Losing "Tonight" was a heart-breaker


 Finally: After all these years, Jay Leno fesses up about how he really felt when Jeff Zucker ripped "Tonight" away - well, ripped it away five years hence - for Conan O'Brien. 

  He was heart-broken.

  Maureen Ryan of The Chicago Tribune got a look at this morning's "Oprah" where Jay talks about everything. Mo did an incredible job on the transcrip and I urge you to cut and paste this url to get the full interview. I've lifted  some chunks of it...


  And it does sound like an interview not to be missed...airs here on WABC/7 at 4.


  Of losing "Tonight:"

"It broke my heart. It really did I was devastated,"

Leno said. "This was the job that I had always wanted

and this was the only job that ever mattered in show

business -- to me. It's the job every comic aspires to.

It was just like, why?"

  On what he said the moment it was yanked back in '04:

"Well, I did tell a white lie on the air," Leno said.

"I said, 'I'm going to retire.'" It was just maybe

easier that way." He added that he "assumed" in 2004

he'd get another job on a different network. But to go

to another network would have been "a lot of work," he


 On the primetime venture/disaster...

"It's a lot more competitive. If I'm in late night, I

know I'm competing with Dave [Letterman] every night. …

We could book against [other late-night shows]. To book

[guests] against the 'CSI' evil twin episode, that's

going to be very hard to do."


On why it failed:

"I think the show failed because it was basically a

late-night talk show at 10 o'clock. You're competing

with dramas that are $3 to $6 million an episode," Leno

said. "I was given enough time. It didn't work," Leno

said. "It's a TV show that got canceled. I am actually

surprised that this got this much attention."

  On the fact that some people think he was "selfish" with regards to getting "Tonight" back (O's quetion):

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."

"I never expected this to happen. People think you're

behind the scenes, pulling strings," he added. "There's

no strings to pull. I have a show that's been canceled.

So why would I have any power to go, 'Oh, I want


On returning to "Tonight:"

Leno: "Well, you know the odd thing is, it's all your

conscience. If you think you played a role in it

somehow, then you get a guilty conscience and you feel

bad. But nowhere in my wildest dreams did I think

they'd ask me to go back. It just didn't seem logical."

On whether he was undercutting Co:

Leno: "No. Because, again, this is an affiliate

decision. Affiliates felt that the ratings were low.

This was the first time in the 60-year history of 'The

Tonight Show' that 'The Tonight Show' would have lost

money. And that's what it comes down to. It's really

just a matter of dollars and cents. If the numbers had

been there, they wouldn't have asked me. And they only

asked me after Conan turned down moving ['The Tonight

Show'] back half an hour."

Leno: "I hope Conan gets a job somewhere else. I hope

he gets on at Fox or somewhere. And we all compete

together. And it raises the level of interest. And you

know what happens, the best one wins. Maybe I'll get my

butt kicked, maybe we'll win."

On  NBC:

: "Anything they did would have been better than

this.,,, If they had come in and shot everybody. It

would have been 'Oh, people were murdered,' but at

least it would have been a two-day story. NBC could not

have handled it worse. From 2004 onward, this whole

thing was a huge mess."

More on how he felt:

"I always thought, 'You're doing the right thing.' I

always felt I was doing the right thing. How can you do

the right thing and just have it go so wrong? Maybe I'm

not doing the right thing, I would think. Maybe I'm

doing something wrong. This many people are angry and

upset over a television show. I mean, I had a show. My

show got canceled. They weren't happy with the other

guy's show. They said, 'We want you to go back,' and I

said, 'OK.' And this seemed to make a lot of people

really upset. And I go, 'Well, who wouldn't take that

job though? Who wouldn't do that?' It was really

agonizing. I would spend a lot of time just thinking

about it, going, 'I think I'm a good guy. Am I a good

guy? Maybe I'm one of these guys who thinks I see

everything with rose-colored glasses and the world is

falling around you.' Yeah, it was a real agonizing tim


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