Jay Leno Seriously Thought George Clooney Should Play Him In A Movie
We asked readers to tell us which comedian they consider the most overrated. Alex S. suggested "the whole Cracked website," but since it would be a stretch to call anything Cracked does comedy, we're instead interested by all the readers—Jennie O., Lenny O., Ralph S., Emily E.—who pointed their fingers at Jay Leno.
Besides everyone who just doesn't find the man funny, quite a few people are still bitter toward Jay Leno over what happened at NBC a decade ago. The network replaced Jay with Conan O'Brien as the host of The Tonight Show, as they'd long promised they would, but then they gave Jay a new show in his old slot and pushed Conan back after midnight. Conan, slighted, ended up leaving the network. This was all very similar to what had happened at NBC almost 20 years earlier, when they'd again favored Jay Leno as the Tonight Show host, this time over David Letterman.
The earlier dispute was such a big deal, it led to a book and then an HBO film, The Late Shift. For the movie, Leno's people contacted HBO to suggest they tap George Clooney for the part of Jay.
That sounds like a joke. Jay is, despite all the haters, a comedian, and he also had a joke casting suggestion (Lorenzo Lamas, a hunky actor on TV at the time).
Years later, Conan O'Brien would jokingly suggest Tilda Swinton play Conan in the sequel, while Andy Richter chose Justin Bieber for himself.
But the Clooney suggestion was legit. Publicists commonly press producers to cast high-profile people to play their clients; multiple different figures associated with The Late Shift asked to be played by Richard Gere. In 1995, Clooney had appeared in almost no films, and it had been just a few years since he'd been appearing regularly in sitcoms. He'd also recently impersonated Jay on Saturday Night Live.
Sadly, HBO ended up instead going with Daniel Roebuck (you might know him as Arzt from Lost). Right up until the airdate, they kept playing around with the film, and real-life events made them rewrite the ending. Originally, they'd planned an epilogue about how much the fiasco had cost NBC, but they had to change it when Jay Leno's show actually did well. Among the many alternate endings they proposed, back in 1996: "two anonymous NBC execs" sum up the situation before saying, "What are we going to do with this Conan guy?"
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Top image: NBC