Late night talk show hosts David Letterman and Jay Leno are no strangers to competition. For over 20 years, the two comedians have battled it out for ratings, guests — and even their first hosting gig.
When rumors began circulating in 1991 that legendary talk show host Johnny Carson was stepping down from hosting “The Tonight Show” after a 30-year run, both Letterman and Leno were eager to fill his shoes. Before Leno was offered the position, Letterman says he took two meetings with NBC executives, where they basically offered him the job. “They said, ‘We want you to take Johnny’s job. We just want to make sure that you’re interested in this,’” he told Oprah Winfrey during an interview.
After the second meeting, Letterman asked if Carson — a man he considered a mentor — knew about the network’s plans. “They said, ‘Well no, we haven’t mentioned this to Johnny,'” Letterman explained. “And I said, ‘Well, you know, I can’t have this conversation until I know that it’s okay with Johnny.’ And that’s the last I heard.”
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