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Leno: Conan and I got 'screwed'

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Jay Leno:'I think Conan will come back'
  • Jay Leno says he expects Conan O'Brien will return to late-night television
  • HLN's Joy Behar interviewed Leno backstage at "The Tonight Show"
  • Leno has returned to his old post after NBC canceled his prime-time show

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Jay Leno expects Conan O'Brien will return to late-night television as a head-to-head competitor against NBC's "The Tonight Show."

"I think Conan will come back, and he'll be strong and, you know, we'll all compete against one another," Leno told Joy Behar, host of HLN's "The Joy Behar Show."

"It should be me against [David] Letterman, against Conan, against [Jimmy] Kimmel, and then you see who wins," he said, referring to all the other late-night comedians.

Behar turned the table -- or the couch -- on Leno while waiting backstage Tuesday for her "Tonight Show" appearance.

"Do you feel upset about Conan?" Behar asked Leno.

Video: Joy Behar backstage with Jay Leno

"Conan got screwed, and I got screwed," Leno said. "This is TV. The reason how business pays a lot of money is, when you get screwed you have something left over."

When NBC yanked Leno off his 10 p.m. show and returned him to "The Tonight Show" host chair, O'Brien was paid in excess of $32 million. He's free to host another talk show after September 1.

"It worked out OK," Leno said. "I don't quite get why I get beat up over it. I know people don't really understand sort of how this business works. It's all numbers. You know, the affiliates wanted us back, so we came back."

NBC's local stations suffered a drop in ratings for their 11 p.m. newscasts in the months that Leno's earlier show was a lead-in.

Leno told Behar he does not take personally all the jokes and criticisms from other comedians about his acceptance of the NBC plan to dump O'Brien.

"All comedians are friends, but when you go onstage your job is to blow the other guys off the stage," he said. "I get it. That's the way it works. I don't want to impede anyone else's opportunity, but when you go out there that's what you do."

The uncertainty of television is why he will keep his other job as a nightclub stand-up comedian, he said.

"That's why I always tell comics, keep your act," he said.

Indeed, Leno flew to Las Vegas after his Tuesday taping to do a 10 p.m. show.