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“War for Late Night” Author Reveals One Joke Jay Leno Never Could Get Over

On CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Howard Kurtz laid out what the public perception of Jay Leno was during the late night debacle: a scheming bad guy who plotted to get rid of Conan O’brien in order to get back his old job. But Bill Carter, author of The War for Late Night, said today that that’s not accurate at all.  While some might consider Leno calculating for giving a controversial interview while still hosting his ill-fated 10 o’clock show, where he awkwardly said he would take back the 11:35 slot if it was offered to him, apparently Carter cuts Jay some more slack.

“Jay wants to go along and get along, he never wants to burn bridges and get people angry with him,” said Carter.  Although as Carter did note, people tend to get annoyed at Jay anyway.

It was well known that Jay was willing to go along with the eventual two show compromise NBC dreamed up, with Jay at 11:35, and Conan at 12:05.  Jay, after all, is always happy to do what NBC tells him, unlike Conan.  However, what Carter reveals here is that one of Conan’s jokes prompted Jay to call NBC and say “I can’t work with this guy.”

Conan’s memorable, and apparently lethal, one-liner?  “I just want to say to the kids out there watching, you can do anything you want in life, yeah, unless Jay Leno wants to do it too.”

For those who cannot get enough of these behind-the-scenes maneuverings, Carter speaks at length in an ESPN radio podcast full of fun speculation about the future of late night television.  And in the spirit of pure speculation, here’s another thought: with David Letterman’s days as a talk show host dwindling, as Carter suggests, perhaps Conan should stop worrying he’s banished to cable forever. The opportunity for him to return to network television as Letterman’s successor to vanquish the Leno dragon might not be that far off.

Watch the interview from CNN below:

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