April 29, 2010 / 11:47 PM / 9 years ago

Conan criticizes Leno over "Tonight Show" fiasco

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Conan O’Brien has criticized Jay Leno for taking the coveted “Tonight Show” back from him during NBC’s late-night TV talk show wars earlier this year.

Conan O'Brien gestures during the 58th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in a file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake

In his first interview since quitting NBC in January, O’Brien says that if the situation had been reversed, he would have gone “someplace else” rather than do what Leno had done.

“He (Leno) went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know — I know me, I wouldn’t have done that,” O’Brien told “60 Minutes” in an interview to be broadcast on CBS on Sunday.

“If I had surrendered ‘The Tonight Show’ and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well — and then ... six months later. But that’s me, you know. Everyone’s got their own, you know, way of doing things,” O’Brien said, according to advance excerpts released on Thursday.

Asked what he would have done, O’Brien said; “Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that’s just me.”

O’Brien quit “The Tonight Show” in January after just seven months when NBC was forced into an embarrassing reshuffle of its late night line-up after axing its low-rated “The Jay Leno Show” at 10 p.m.

The red-haired comedian had refused to move “The Tonight Show” from its traditional 11:35 p.m. slot to beyond midnight in order to accommodate Leno’s switch to a new time.

Leno, who was widely portrayed in the U.S. media as the villain in a bitter, public war of words, has since returned to the flagship talk show that he hosted for 17 years.

Leno said later he “felt really bad” for Conan but said the business of television, and its reliance on audience ratings, was unfair for everyone.

O’Brien announced earlier this month he would be hosting a new late night talk show at cable channel TBS starting in November. He has also been on a comedy stand-up tour of the United States called “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television”.

O’Brien told “60 Minutes” he left NBC because he felt his relationship with the network had deteriorated to the point where it seemed to have no future.

“I think this relationship is going be toxic and maybe we just need to go our separate ways,” he said. “That’s really how it felt to me...and I started to feel that I’m not sure these people even really want me here...I can’t do it (anymore).”

O’Brien negotiated a $45 million exit deal from NBC but was barred from launching a new TV show before September.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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