Jimmy Kimmel shared little-known details about the 2010 Tonight Show debacle involving Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. The ABC late-night host revealed some interesting behind-the-scenes stories while joining Bill Maher’s “Club Random” podcast.
The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien debuted in 2009 after O’Brien waited five years for the gig, as promised by NBC. Just a few months later, The Jay Leno Show was installed as O’Brien’s lead-in. Ratings didn’t exactly pan out for either show, so NBC proposed moving Leno to the 11:30 timeslot and bumping back The Tonight Show.
O’Brien refused to play along and ultimately stepped down from The Tonight Show. The result was Leno returning to his old show, only to retire and be replaced by Jimmy Fallon in 2014. O’Brien would go on to have a successful run with Conan on TBS.
During the PR nightmare, seemingly the entire nation shared their thoughts on Conan vs. Jay and how poorly NBC handled the situation. That included Jimmy Kimmel. ABC’s host clearly supported O’Brien, going so far as to mock Leno both to his face on The Jay Leno Show and on a Jimmy Kimmel Live! parody.
Jimmy Kimmel says Jay Leno was close to joining him at ABC
The Tonight Show saga is ancient history at this point, given how many late-night TV shows have come and gone. Both Leno and O’Brien appear to be at peace and moved on from the situation.
But on his “Club Random” podcast, Bill Maher had no problem rehashing the story with guest Jimmy Kimmel. Maher defended Leno’s decision to take the 10:00 show ahead of Conan’s Tonight Show. On the other hand, Kimmel called it “diabolical” and suggested Leno always angled to retake The Tonight Show.
Kimmel went on to reveal that he was much more than a spectator in the late-night TV wars. He told Maher that ABC recruited Leno for what would be a show in direct competition with The Tonight Show. However, it required Kimmel’s approval since his contract at the time stipulated that Jimmy Kimmel Live! would air at midnight.
So during negotiations, Leno frequently called up Kimmel to chat. According to Kimmel, he thought they were developing a sincere friendship. Kimmel eventually agreed to move his show back and have Leno as his lead-in and ABC partner.
Of course, that never happened. Leno stuck with NBC and was reinstalled as the Tonight Show host. Subsequently, the phone calls to Kimmel stopped since Leno no longer needed help landing a gig at ABC. It clearly rubbed Kimmel the wrong way and the comedian didn’t try to hide his feelings during the Tonight Show debacle.
When Maher mentioned he didn’t know these details, Kimmel revealed that few people actually do. But, the late-night host also admitted that he has moved on from it and even spoke with Jay Leno at some point.
Kimmel recently revealed he’s uncertain about his future in late-night TV. Who knows how things would be now if Jay Leno jumped to ABC to go head-to-head with Conan O’Brien.
What did you think of Jimmy Kimmel’s side of things in the Tonight Show conflict? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.