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Comic Stands Up For Jay Leno

This article was written by CBSNews.com's Ken Lombardi

During Jay Leno's first week back in the "The Tonight Show" spot he held on NBC (and maintained ratings gold with) for 17 years, the embattled host's controversial restoration has been met with heated criticisms from both viewers and public media figures alike.

Just several days ago, Sirius Satellite Radio host Howard Stern gained headlines for his unflinchingly fierce assessment of the late-night funnyman. Meanwhile, another popular figure from Sirius has come to Leno's defense, arguing that TV critics have been unfair in their appraisal of the now-infamous "Late-Night Wars."

Comedian Jim Norton, who serves as a third-mic on "The Opie and Anthony Show" on Sirius and routinely contributes comedic reports to "The Tonight Show," says media pundits have been staunchly sympathetic to Conan O'Brien, both during negotiations to keep O'Brien on NBC at a later time slot and after he lost his hosting duties to Leno's return.

"To me, Leno was unfairly vilified, and you shouldn't vilify Conan either," Norton pointed out during a recent interview with CBSNews.com at the Sirus XM broadcasting center in New York City.

"The way critics looked at it was like, 'Well, you've gotta give Conan some time.' And I agreed with that. But no one said that about Jay…nobody gave him that kind of leniency. To me, they had an agenda. Critics are like any other group, they have self interests at heart," Norton said.

The comic suggested that Leno has been conveyed as a villain who should have allowed O'Brien to keep his position as the host of "The Tonight Show" after Leno's own stint at primetime proved to be a ratings failure.

But Norton claimed that this is simply not the case, and that media critics intentionally signaled out Leno when his show aired at 10 p.m. for a logistical purpose, pointing out that, "If Leno is successful five nights a week, then that's five nights of drama and…other things that they can't talk about."

And, despite the consistently negative perception of Leno as of late, Norton says the TV host will eventually recover from the fallout.

"Why wouldn't [Leno] return to where he was?...I think people are going to watch between him and Letterman to see what's going back and forth. I think Leno will be fine," Norton said of his collaborator.

Norton's own fate as a comedic addition to "The Tonight Show" remains in question.

"They haven't indicated to me what they're plans are…I loved being on 'The Tonight Show.' And I enjoyed doing Jay's show when he was on at 10. If they asked me to, I would love it, if not, I will be very heart-broken," he seemingly joked.

Whatever outcome arises from the late-night conflict, at least Jay Leno can perhaps find comfort knowing that he has a trusted colleague who will come to his defense.

Watch CBSNews.com's interview with Jim Norton here:


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