Leno, Letterman and O'Brien sparked a controversy a decade ago when they dramatically shifted the late night line-up — with a whole lot of growing pains. Leno appeared on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen this week, where he did his best to sum up the whole debacle with ten years of perspective.
Leno took over as the host of The Tonight Show in 1992, following the retirement of the legendary Johnny Carson. Many thought that Letterman would be next in line for the job, but Leno said that there is no enmity between them.
"We don't hate each other," he said. "The media makes a big thing about it. I am a huge fan."
"You know, when I started, Letterman was a great wordsmith. He could put things together, but he's kind of a hesitant performer," Leno went on. "I was a very loud, boisterous performer, but I wasn't that good a writer. So I'd watch him and go, 'Oh, man, how do you put those sentences together?' And he'd 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."
Letterman was the host of Late Night at the time, another NBC talk show airing after midnight. However, in 1993 he left the show, passing it off to O'Brien. In 2009, Leno's contract with The Tonight Show ended, and he moved to a later slot for a new program called The Jay Leno Show. The Tonight Show, in turn, went to O'Brien, however, it did not last long.
A year later, The Jay Leno Show was canceled. O'Brien left The Tonight Show in a storm of controversy and confusion, and Leno returned to the show for five years. Many assumed or speculated that Leno had somehow used his influence to take his show back from the younger comedian, but this week Leno said that that was not the case.
"Look, they're rating-based shows," Leno said. "It's not your decision. People act like it's your decision... the network makes these decisions. They decide you're going to leave and then they decide when you're gonna come back. So, there is not a lot different I would have done."0comments
Leno said he "can't think of anything" he would do differently if her were in the same predicament again. He added that he kept quiet on the controversy, particularly since Howard Stern seemed to be leading the charge against him, and "you're not going to win a feud with Howard."
"I don't respond. Never explain, never complain, that's my thing," Leno continued. "Howard is good. If you start that feud, boom, you're down. So if you just let it roll, and it's fine."