In a lengthy interview with Broadcasting & Cable, Jay Leno talks about the reaction to his new show, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and much more. A few highlights:
On negative press coverage: "You don't take it personally because there's really no fun in an upbeat story. The fun is, they did this and let's watch it fall. I enjoy being the underdog."
On "Tonight": "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….My thing is, I did 'The Tonight Show' for 17 years, that's what I did. It's like the America's Cup; you won it, they can't take it away from you. So now you try this and you see what happens. Do I enjoy the battle? Yes, I get a certain amount of satisfaction from pounding my head against the wall."
On feeling satisfied because of Conan's lower ratings: "No. There is nothing that kills creativity more than bitterness. You get no satisfaction from that at all. You really, really don't."
On Letterman: "He's not being a hypocrite; Dave has never set himself up as [a model citizen]. If it were me, it would kill me. I'm the guy who's been married 29 years. But Dave has never pretended to be Mr. Moral America, he's never set himself up that way. He's not a hypocrite. I don't know how it will be viewed. He doesn't do corporate days like me, he's not as advertiser-friendly as I am. I'm the guy when Coke or Pepsi is here, I come down and shake hands and take pictures, but he doesn't do that. I don't think it will have a big effect at all."
On the affiliates: "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."
On his relationship with NBC: "I have the same friends I had in high school, and these [at NBC] are acquaintances. You have a business relationship; as long as you are making money for someone, you are friends. And when you're not making money for someone, you're not friends. I get it….As long I'm making money for the company, I will be here. When I'm not making money for the company, I won't be here, and I understand how that works."
Jay curses! Who knew? "I look at what makes other competitors weak: alcohol, drugs, sex, instability emotionally. And I go, 'OK, let me make myself strong by being the long-distance guy.' So I try to fashion myself on the fact that emotionally I can take it. Physically I tried boxing and I got the shit kicked out of me. But emotionally I can take body shots all day long and that doesn't really bother me. I realize that's where my strength is. I see other comics say, 'Fuck that, I'm not going back to that club, they treated me...' [And I say], 'Great, I got that one.'"
On giving up: "I never say 'no mas.' It's not my call. I've never walked away from anything in my life….This is what I do. You keep plowing ahead. If someone wants to take you out, I'm out."