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Jay Leno Talks Ratings, Says He Would Return To 'Tonight Show' If Asked

In a candid interview with 'Broadcasting & Cable', Jay Leno opens up about David Letterman's scandal, Conan's dismal ratings and the constant barrage of bad press he seems to get.

"No, not surprised at all," Leno says of the negative coverage about the new 10 PM 'Jay Leno Show'. "You don't take it personally because there's really no fun in an upbeat story. The fun is, they did this and let's watch it fall."

"I enjoy being the underdog….Right now we've reached a level. We're not going below that. The numbers seem to tell us people who are watching the show are staying the whole hour; that's a good sign. I'm told if we can keep a 1.5 rating, they make $300 million a year; this is what they say. So we're a little above the 1.5, we're doing OK."

"The one thing about TV is the longer you're on, the longer you're on. If you get past an initial point, then you're there, and people get used to it and they fall into a certain pattern. And I think that's the real trick."

"I've been down this road, I did it with Johnny the first time—they're going to fire me and replace me with Dave. That was much worse; this is like a walk in the park compared to that."

Asked if he regrets taking the primetime show, Leno says: "Would I have preferred to stay at 11:30? Yeah, sure. I would have preferred that. I think it's too soon to say whether I regret anything or not. My thing is, I did 'The Tonight Show' for 17 years, that's what I did. It's like the America's Cup; you won it, they can't take it away from you."

"So now you try this and you see what happens. Do I enjoy the battle? Yes, I get a certain amount of satisfaction from pounding my head against the wall. I'm not here because the 10 PM period was widely successful. I'm here because nothing else was working."

"I'm not having a bad time at 10 o'clock now. I look at this as a job, and now I'm faced with a challenge, and it's a challenge I find difficult but interesting. I find that when I go to Vegas, whereas before I might not sell out, all of a sudden it's sold out. I seem to be doing better in terms of public appearances. I am reaching a wider audience. Whether that translates to television just yet, I don't know. But I see a difference."

When pushed about whether he wants to go back to 11:35, Leno replies: "If it were offered to me, would I take it? If that's what they wanted to do, sure. That would be fine if they wanted to."

"Personally, I think Conan is doing fine. He's beating Dave in the demo, maybe not in the popular one right now because Dave has a lot of other things going that have people watching for whatever reason, so I think that's not really a fair thing. It's a little too early to tell."

As for Letterman's scandal, Leno explains that he isn't really getting a 'free pass', as many have put it.

"I wouldn't trade places with Dave now for anything! I don't think he's getting a free pass. If it were me, it would kill me. I'm the guy who's been married 29 years."

"But Dave has never pretended to be Mr. Moral America, he's never set himself up that way. He's not a hypocrite. I don't know how it will be viewed. He doesn't do corporate days like me, he's not as advertiser-friendly as I am. I'm the guy when Coke or Pepsi is here, I come down and shake hands and take pictures, but he doesn't do that. I don't think it will have a big effect at all."

The comedian says he knows how the game works and he's not bitter about being moved from 'Tonight' while it was still dominating the late night ratings. Even though it's now being beaten nightly by Letterman.

"I don't get pissed off about these things. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. You don't blame anybody else; I don't blame anybody else. Every day I meet another genius in this town whose show would have been a hit if a competing show hadn't been better."

"If this was 1993 and this was my first go-round in TV, it would be terribly discouraging. But people either like you or they don't, and that's pretty much where we are."

"You have a business relationship; as long as you are making money for someone, you are friends. And when you're not making money for someone, you're not friends. I get it. As long I'm making money for the company, I will be here."

"When I'm not making money for the company, I won't be here, and I understand how that works."

November 3, 2009 |

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