New York In his first post-“Tonight” show interview, Conan O’Brien said that if he had been in Jay Leno’s shoes, he would not have taken back the show less than a year after publicly handing it off to someone else.
“That’s me, you know,” O’Brien told Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” in an interview to be broadcast Sunday, excerpts of which were released Thursday by CBS. “Everyone’s got their own way ... of doing things.”
O’Brien, in the midst of a sold-out concert tour, said he decided to leave NBC because “this relationship is going to be toxic and maybe we just need to go our separate ways.”
It was the comic’s first interview about the late-night television drama that played out this winter.
He has since been hired by TBS, where he will launch a talk show in November.
In a transition laid out five years earlier, Leno left “Tonight” last year and O’Brien took over. NBC worried about losing Leno to a competitor so the network gave him a prime-time show five nights a week.
That failed on two fronts: affiliates objected to Leno’s low ratings and threatened to pull the show, and O’Brien’s poor “Tonight” show ratings enabled CBS’ David Letterman to surge ahead to first place.
NBC tried to please both comics by offering Leno a half-hour show at 11:35 p.m. and letting O’Brien keep the “Tonight” show name and begin a half hour later. O’Brien said no and Leno, who never wanted to leave “Tonight” in the first place, slipped back into his old home.
“I wouldn’t have done that,” O’Brien said.
Asked by Kroft what he would have done, O’Brien said, “Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that’s just me.”
O’Brien said he didn’t see the point in giving everything to a relationship with NBC that seemed to have no future.
“I’m not sure these people even really want me here,” he said.
During the few weeks between his public decision and actual exit, O’Brien became something of a folk hero. An Internet “Team Coco” tribe rose up to support him, and O’Brien’s ratings soared for shows with pointed jabs about his bosses.
NBC and a Leno spokesman had no comment about O’Brien’s statements.
His buyout by NBC forbade O’Brien from giving interviews that could be printed or telecast before May 1; the “60 Minutes” telecast will be May 2.
CBS’ release of the interview excerpts may be a technical violation of that deal, but NBC wasn’t expected to pursue it.