Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon try really hard to prove there’s no ‘Tonight Show’ drama

Jimmy Fallon (Lloyd Bishop/NBC/AP)
Jimmy Fallon, future “Tonight Show” host. (Lloyd Bishop/NBC/AP)

Remember when Conan O’Brien took over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno and everything quickly imploded? Now, as Jimmy Fallon prepares to take over next month, NBC is working hard to make sure there’s no drama. To prove it, Leno has sat for a pair of  relatively cheerful TV interviews the last two days, on “Today” Monday morning (where Fallon joined) and “60 Minutes” Sunday night.

On “Today,” we were treated to scenes of Leno and Fallon sitting at a table with Matt Lauer, laughing and joking with each other, chatting about the late-night fraternity. Fallon just wants to make Leno proud. And the million dollar question: Is Leno actually leaving this time?

Of course! Leno insists. So what’s the difference between this time and last time, when NBC quickly reversed the wacky plan it hatched in 2004 to install Conan as “Tonight Show” host in 2009?

“I mean, this time, I was asked,” Leno said. “The last time I was sort of told, ‘This is what’s happening.’”

We’ll take his word for it — although Leno admitted that if Fallon didn’t come along, he probably would have stuck around for another year or so.

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What we learned during “60 Minutes”: No, Leno is not upset that he’s being pushed out in favor of Fallon, whom he acknowledges is part of a natural generational shift. (“When I see him do a dance number with, you know, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z or somebody, I go, “I can’t do that.”) And no, he’s not planning to host another late night show, or come back to the “Tonight Show” for a third time.

And after all this time, Leno is adamant that he had nothing to do with Conan being forced to step down from the “Tonight Show” after just seven months on the job — he was simply asked to come back by NBC to stop the show’s ratings slide, so he did. Leno’s wife, Mavis, makes a rare appearance to confirm the story.

Of course, in the middle of Leno’s raving about the greatness of Fallon, Kroft reminded Leno that he had said all the same things about Conan just a few years ago.

“Did I say the same things?” Leno mused. “Yeah, probably. Well, maybe I did. Well, we’ll see what happens.”

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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