Jay Leno, then and now

"Conan, it's yours!" the late-night host said five years ago

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published January 23, 2010 12:23AM (EST)

What a difference five years makes.

When Jay Leno sat down earlier this week to recap his version of how he and the rest of the viewing public wound up in this pickle, he explained that back in 2004, NBC told him they didn't want Conan to go, and they were giving him "The Tonight Show" in 2009. "I said at the time, okay, I'll retire just to avoid what happened the last time." 

Let's compare that, shall we, with what Jay told his audience back then: "There's only one person who could have done this into his 60s, and that was Johnny Carson," he said. "You can do these things till they carry you out on a stretcher, or you can leave while you're still doing good." He went to explain, "When I took this show over, there was a lot of animosity between me and Dave ... quite frankly, a lot of  good friendships were permanently damaged. I don't want to see anybody ever have to go through that again. This show is a dynasty: You hold it, then you hand it off to the next person. Conan, it's yours!"

And after tonight, Leno, it's yours again.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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