Leno Still Sees Himself in Competition With Letterman

By Andrew Gauthier 


As Jay Leno prepares for his debut on Monday, he offered some thoughts on his former rival, Dave Letterman. In an interview with Mary Murphy of the New York Post, he offered an unsolicited remark that suggests he still sees himself in competition with Letterman.

“I was unlike Dave, who I consider a broadcaster who’s an excellent comedian. I consider myself a comedian first and a broadcaster second, and that’s not a slight to Dave–I don’t mean it that way. But, I mean, Dave’s strength was always in broadcasting; he wasn’t quite as good in nightclubs. I was always a nightclub concert guy and TV came second.”

After bestowing the “Tonight Show” on Conan O’Brien in June, Leno has spent the summer preparing for (and talking up) his new primetime project. “The Jay Leno Show” is scheduled for 10PM, when all the other networks air expensive, scripted dramas. The move is unprecedented and risky, and critics have speculated all summer long about whether the gamble is NBC’s latest stroke of genius, or a major miscalculation.

When Murphy asked what he’ll do if the show’s a flop, Leno said, “I did ‘The Tonight Show’ for 17 years, kept it No. 1, handed it off No. 1,” a subtle jab at Conan, whose “Tonight Show” has struggled this summer against a regularly successful Letterman. In July, Letterman beat O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” in back-to-back weeks–the first time that has happened since 1998. As of this week, Letterman has topped O’Brien for eight weeks in a row, according to Nielsen.

Leno continued, “If, a year from now, if this bombs and people ask, “Did you do anything after “The Tonight Show,” I’ll say, “Me? No, no, I’m retired.”