In the light of the recent controversy surrounding Jay Leno returning to the Late Night timeslot after less than a year, footage has surfaced from Leno's original broadcast in 2004 where it was confirmed Conan O'Brien would take over the show in 2009.
The video, which has appeared on website Funny or Die, is from a segment of a 2004 edition of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He elaborates on the future of The Tonight Show, and what will happen in five years' time:
About six months ago, I sat down with the folks at NBC, and they say "we want to re-up"...so I said, "Fine, what do you want to do?". They said "we want to do five more years", and I said "Great!"...that was six months ago, time went by. There's all this talk about Conan O'Brien - will he go to ABC, will he go to one of the other networks - and they came to me and they said "We don't want to lose Conan O'Brien"...they said "We think Conan would be a good replacement". As I do. Conan is a gentleman, funny, the hottest late night guy out there, excellent. I said "you know something? I don't want to lose Conan either."
He goes on to note that in 1,200 show's time, he will be 58 years old and could not host The Tonight Show into his sixties. "There was only one person who could have...and that was Johnny Carson," he says in the footage. "And I think it's fair to say I'm no Johnny Carson."
He compares his departure plans to that of his comedic peer, Jerry Seinfeld, who ended his program Seinfeld at its critical and commercial peak.
"You can do these things until they take you out on a stretcher," he says, "or you can get out when you're still doing good."
Of particular interest, however, is his final statement.
Y'know, when I took the show over? Boy, there was a lot of animosity between me and Dave [Letterman] and who was going to get it. Quite frankly, a lot of good friendships were permanently damaged and I don't want to see that happening to anyone ever again. This show is like a dynasty - you hold it and then you hand it off to the next person. So I don't want to see all the fighting and the 'who's better?' nasty things back and forth in the press. So here it is: Conan, it's yours. See you in five years, buddy.
These statements from Leno come as very ironic in light of recent actions taken by The Jay Leno Show and the NBC network, which threatens to throw The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien out of its time slot entirely. Leno's actions have been highly criticized, particularly from other hosts and comedians, such as Jimmy Kimmel (of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and O'Brien's Late Night replacement Jimmy Fallon (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon).