Jay Leno Admits He Would've "Preferred" to Stay on "The Tonight Show"

Last Updated Nov 6, 2009 1:57 PM EST

Wow, was this interview ever overlooked -- in a Q&A that was posted on Monday, Jay Leno sat down with Broadcasting & Cable to talk about how he really feels about the controversy surrounding "The Jay Leno Show" -- up to and including an admission that he would have "preferred" to stay on "The Tonight Show." It's worth reading the interview in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts:

Last week, Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer was the latest of many to call NBC's decision a bad one. Does that weigh on you? Yeah. So what does NBC do? If you are making buggy whips and no one is buying buggies anymore, do you keep making buggy whips? I don't know. This is an economic decision.

... you're not [NBC Universal CEO] Jeff Zucker ... You're Jay, and this is just your show. You're taking the beating for all of this. But that's what you get paid to do. That's OK. What am I supposed to do, sit here and whine? What does the public hate more than that? Your job is to put your nose to the grindstone and try to fix it. I could complain all I want and it wouldn't change the outcome. Nobody likes a whiner. You're on until you're not on anymore. You just do the best job you can. You're happy to take the shots in the press for this? It doesn't bother you? I'm not happy to do it, it's my job. Grow up, people. Here's a lot of money, go out and do this. It's the way it works. I'm not protecting Jeff Zucker, nor am I hiding behind him. I could have said no. But I like being on TV and writing jokes.

Have you regretted this decision along the way? 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 ...

Do you want to go back to 11:35? 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.

You've had good affiliate relationships for a long time. What's that like now with the negative press? I called a bunch of them last week. Unless they are the greatest actors in the world, they seem to be hanging in there and say they are in it for the long haul. I called Baltimore, Boston, the head of the affiliate board. They don't see it as dire as a lot of people are making it out to be--.I think they seemed pleased that someone on at 10 o'clock is concerned about their well-being and their lead-in. George Lopez producer Mike Gibbons said there's never even been a conversation in TV about taking the number-one show off the air before NBC pulled you off 11:35. Yup. You got me. [Laughs] Exactly. I don't know what to tell you. I do get a sort of perverse pleasure battling windmills here.

One thing to take into consideration in reading the above -- because it comes out in virtually all of Leno's interviews about the business of television -- is that Leno has an unfailingly "I'm just doing my job" attitude toward what he does for a living. He would never goes so far as to suggest what NBC might, or might not have done; for him to say he would have "preferred" to stay on "The Tonight Show" is as close as he can come to being an ingrate.

In the interview, Leno also makes a few comments about the economics of the show. He says that NBC has told him that if the show gets a 1.5 rating, it will make $300 million a year (that sounds like net, not gross). The show's rating is currently a 1.6, so, as Leno says, " we're a little above the 1.5, we're doing OK."

I hate to resort to a cliche on all of this, but stay tuned. The saga of "The Jay Leno Show" will get more interesting before it gets less.

Previous coverage of "The Jay Leno Show" at BNET Media: