A Tale of Two Late Nights

Let’s play another round of News Cut’s “Who said it?” (cue theme)

“I feel like a guy who has bought a car from somebody, painted it, fixed it up and made it look nice and then the guy comes back and says he promised to sell the car to his brother-in-law.”

If you guessed Conan O’Brien, circa January 2010, try again.

That was Jay Leno in December 1992, as NBC network execs publicly fretted whether to hand the Tonight Show to Leno or then Late Night host David Letterman. Letterman, of course, left NBC to form the Late Show on CBS after Leno was handed the keys.

Mr. Leno said he would “obviously leave NBC immediately” if the network decided to give the “Tonight” show to Mr. Letterman. He said he would absolutely refuse to do a show in the 12:30 A.M. spot now occupied by Mr. Letterman’s show, “Late Night,” and would indeed consider creating the same problem for NBC that Mr. Letterman’s proposed deal with CBS caused.

Conan’s crack advice to kids rings true even in 1992: “You can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too.”

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