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Jay Leno was a key figure on the NBC late night scene for many years, and he remains one of the most iconic modern late night hosts thanks to his tenure as leading man of The Tonight Show. For a brief stint back in 2009-2010, however, Leno gave up The Tonight Show for The Jay Leno Show, which aired in primetime rather than late night. He was replaced on The Tonight Show by Conan O'Brien, but low ratings saw O'Brien booted from The Tonight Show with hosting duties returned to Leno. It was a mess at the time, and Leno came off looking like the villain. Now, he has shared his feelings about his status as the bad guy:
Somehow this was my fault ... and then Conan quit ... I sort of smile when I read about how I 'conspired' -- you know, 'Jay Leno demanded the show back and they had to give it to him because they had to pay him $150 million.' No, they didn't have to give me $150 million. I mean, if I'm that smart, how did I lose the show in the first place?
When the key time slot of 11:35 p.m. ET was offered back to Jay Leno in 2010, Conan O'Brien actually had the option of staying on as host of The Tonight Show, with the caveat that its time slot would be bumped back to 12:05 a.m. O'Brien chose to leave NBC rather than take the later time slot, and so Leno regained The Tonight Show and O'Brien ultimately moved to TBS. At the time, however, it seemed more like NBC and Leno were determined to get the 11:35 p.m. slot back for Leno, no matter what, and O'Brien seemed like the wronged party. Leno's comments to THR indicate that he's made his peace with the reactions, but he clearly hasn't forgotten them.
Of course, Jay Leno didn't actually stay at NBC all that much longer after regaining The Tonight Show in 2010. He remained on board for only another four years, departing in 2014 and handing hosting duties over to Jimmy Fallon, who has enjoyed (mostly) dominant ratings in the years since. For his part, Leno has been able to dedicate himself to Jay Leno's Garage, although he has returned to The Tonight Show a few times and made a shockingly energetic appearance on Spike's Lip Sync Battle. He's done just fine for himself, despite some of the bad press he got during the NBC shakeup.
Conan O'Brien has done well for himself as well. He landed a show of his own at TBS, and while it doesn't give him quite the reach that he would have gotten with a place on NBC, he has thrived there. Late night on network TV now belongs to a new generation of comedians.
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