Jay Leno Says ‘Don’t Blame Conan O’Brien’ For Late-Night War

O'Brien's exit deal, 'Tonight Show' future being ironed out on Tuesday.

The late-night war appears to be coming to a close. Conan O’Brien is in his last week as the host of “The Tonight Show” and his walkaway deal from NBC is being finalized. Meanwhile, Jay Leno spent several minutes on Monday night’s edition of “The Jay Leno Show” to clarify his side of the story.

“I thought maybe I should address this and at least give you my view,” Leno said while sitting behind his desk, just before his “Headlines” segment. He talked about his initial meeting in 2004 with executives from NBC, where they told him that because Conan O’Brien was getting offers from other networks, they were going to offer him “The Tonight Show” as a means of making him stay.

“Don’t blame Conan O’Brien. Nice guy, good family guy, great guy,” Leno said. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll retire.’”

As time went on, he explained, his version of “The Tonight Show” continued to win the ratings war with rival David Letterman. When the time came for Leno’s contract to end, NBC offered him the prime-time gig. “They said, ‘How about prime time?’ I said, ‘Well, that will never work.’ ” The network assured him it had done research and was committed to two years to allow him to find his footing.

After four months, NBC decided to pull the plug. When Leno asked to get out of his contract, they the network told him it wanted to retain him because he was a valuable asset. “How valuable can I be?” he asked. “You fired me twice!”

At the end of his explanation, Leno said that the final details of the future of “The Tonight Show” should be ironed out on Tuesday. “Through all of this, Conan O’Brien has been a gentleman,” he said. “He’s a good guy. This is all business, and if you don’t have ratings, they take you off the air.”

Over on “The Tonight Show,” O’Brien addressed the erroneous rumors that he was legally prohibited from saying anything negative about NBC during his final week as an employee of the network. “Luckily, they’re not saying I can’t sing anything negative!” he joked, launching into an a cappella rendition of the theme from “Star Wars” with the lyrics, “Morons/ Incompetent morons/ These people are morons/ La di di di.”