Jay Leno Addresses Exit From ‘The Tonight Show,’ Apologizes To Jimmy Kimmel

by Alex Falls

Jay Leno’s name is one of the most synonymous with late-night TV. He hosted The Tonight Show beginning in 1992 until 2009. At which point Conan O’Brien took over the late-night centerpiece and Leno went on to host his own new show. However, after a whirlwind of events, Leno came back and hosted The Tonight Show again until 2014.

During the turnaround, Leno played with the idea of moving from his longtime network at NBC to host a new show on ABC. Leno appeared on Bill Maher’s podcast Club Random where the two comedians discussed the controversial period in Leno’s career.

Leno told Maher it was never his intention to “deliberately sabotage” The Tonight Show once O’Brien took over. “It doesn’t work that way. You’re trying to do the best you can,” Leno said.

Neither his old show nor his new show, The Jay Leno Show, took off in the ratings. But Leno had the choice to stay at NBC or move to ABC for a fresh start.

When making the choice, Leno said, “Sometimes the czar you have is better than the one you’re going to… Then you have your old team shooting at you as well. I just figured let’s just play this out and see what happens. This all happened fairly quickly.”

Leno Apologizes to Kimmel

It happened so quickly that ABC mainstay Jimmy Kimmel was left in the dark on Leno’s choice. Leno coming to ABC would’ve meant Kimmel needing to move timeslots. Kimmel was open to the idea. But Leno never called him back to let him know what direction he took.

“I suppose I should have called Jimmy and explained to him again, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t. I just didn’t,” Leno said. “I thought he probably would figure it out. But I think maybe he was hurt by that, and I apologized to him for that.”

The comedian also called Kimmel “really funny” and praised his job hosting the Oscars. There seems to be no bad blood between them now. Leno did eventually leave the world of late-night behind, but even at 72 he still stays plenty busy in the world of TV. He hosts a revival of the classic game show You Bet Your Life and he hosts his web series, Jay Leno’s Garage.

During his conversation with Maher, Leno also touched on the evolution of television where ratings for late-night shows are dramatically lower than during his hosting days.

“The toughest thing about late night now is that the commercials,” Leno said. “You know, you get used to streaming and watching Netflix and I go, ‘Let me see what the guys are doing.’ I go, ‘Another commercial?’ I mean, there’s a nine-minute break at 12 am to 12:09 am on almost all the shows. After 11 pm at night, you can add more commercials.”