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Jay Leno on Leaving The Tonight Show: “It’s Not My Decision,” But Jimmy Fallon “Makes Perfect Sense”

Jay Leno
In a 60 Minutes chat about his Tonight Show exit, Jay Leno says leaving is "not [his] decision" but praises Jimmy Fallon as a "young Johnny [Carson]"

If it were up to Jay Leno, hosting the Tonight Show would be like serving as a Supreme Court Justice: You'd have the job for life. After more than 20 years behind the desk, Leno, 63, still isn't quite ready to give up his seat, he admits in a new interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, airing Sunday, Jan. 26. But if he has to give it up to anybody, Jimmy Fallon isn't a bad choice.

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"It's not my decision, and I think I probably would have stayed if we didn't have an extremely qualified, young guy ready to jump in," the comedian says, referring to fellow late night comedian Fallon. (Leno — who took over the show from Johnny Carson in 1992 — will host his final episode on Feb. 6; SNL alum Fallon will take over on Feb. 17.)

"[Jimmy Fallon] is probably more like a young Johnny [Carson] than almost anybody since," he adds. "And he's really good. So you go with the new guy. Makes perfect sense to me."

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What didn't make sense to him, he says, was NBC's previous attempt to replace him with Conan O'Brien. (O'Brien temporarily took over The Tonight Show in 2009 but was ousted when ratings fell.)

"I was blindsided…" Leno tells 60 Minutes of being asked to give up the show then. "[NBC executives said,] 'You're out…' and I went, 'Okay.'" It was kind of like being dumped by a significant other, he explains.

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"You know, you have a girl [who] says, 'I don't want to see you anymore,'" he says. "Why? 'You know, she doesn't want to see you anymore, okay?'"

Ultimately, the NBC star was asked to return — which caused even more drama, as some fans (and even other comedians) saw it as a slight to O'Brien on Leno's part. "I didn't quite understand that, but I never chose to answer any of those things or make fun of any other people involved," he says. "It's not my way."

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