Late Night Hosts That Didn't Get Along

When it comes to late night television, certain hosts become synonymous with the gig. Johnny Carson, Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, and David Letterman are some of the first names that come to mind, especially when you consider the breadth of their careers and their highly publicized feuds. You might not expect to see animosity among late night hosts, but over the years there have been several instances in which these individuals didn't exactly see eye-to-eye.

Though Leno, O'Brien, and Letterman typically had issues with one another while they were competing for the same jobs within the same time slots, Carson had a professional scuffle several decades prior with none other than Joan Rivers. Rivers was a prominent guest and guest host on "The Tonight Show" with Carson for 18 years before leaving to host her own late night show (via The Hollywood Reporter). Carson considered it a betrayal and never forgave her. Their feud is less well-known than the disagreements between Leno, Letterman, and O'Brien, but the impact of what transpired with Carson stuck with Rivers for years. Show business is often a cutthroat place, and late night television is no exception.

Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien had a falling out

To viewers at home, it seemed like Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien got along well, but their camaraderie dissolved in 2009 when O'Brien took over "The Tonight Show" from Leno. At the time, Leno decided to step down because he was given his own late night gig on NBC that aired after "The Tonight Show."

NBC realized, however, that O'Brien's "Tonight Show" ratings were lower than anticipated, and they made the executive decision to boot O'Brien from the show in favor of bringing Leno back to host (via Cafe Mom). Though it was the network's decision, O'Brien wasn't pleased with Leno for jumping at the opportunity to take back hosting duties for "The Tonight Show." O'Brien tried to joke about the matter during a monologue and stated, "I just want to say to the kids out there watching, you can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too" (via Cafe Mom).

Leno effectively sided with the network and expressed little empathy for O'Brien. "Look, they're ratings-based shows," he said. "People act like it's your decision. 'Well, you know, I think I'll go back.' The network makes these decisions. They decide when you're going to leave and they decide they want you to come back. So there's not a lot different I would have done" (via YouTube).

In 2012, O'Brien said, "The odds are we will both leave this Earth without speaking to each other, which is fine" (via Us Magazine).

Letterman and Leno competed with one another for The Tonight Show

Prior to Leno's feud with O'Brien, Leno had it out with another famous late night host, David Letterman (per Cafe Mom). The iconic feud between Leno and Letterman was truly one for the ages, as they had been competing with one another to take over "The Tonight Show" from Johnny Carson. Carson retired in 1992, and Letterman assumed he would be the one to take up the mantle (via Us Magazine). Letterman was passed over in favor of Leno, as NBC executives felt as though Leno was more palatable for the 11:30 p.m. time slot. According to Letterman biographer Jason Zinoman, "Letterman assumed one day he would get a call from [Johnny] Carson or the head of NBC to offer him the job [as host of 'The Tonight Show']. It never happened" (via People).

Letterman went on to have his own late night show, "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, that competed for ratings with Leno's "Tonight Show," as they aired at the same time. The pair appeared friendly with one another when being interviewed on each other's shows.

Leno, for his part, placed the blame on the media for over-inflating the issue between them. During his appearance on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen," Leno said he was a huge fan of Letterman, and he considers his feuds with both Letterman and O'Brien to be things of the past. "I don't hold any grudges," Leno said (via YouTube).

Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers went from friends to enemies overnight

The break between Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers in the 1980s was truly heartbreaking for Rivers. When Rivers was beginning her comedic career in the early 1960s, she made repeat appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Carson. In an essay for The Hollywood Reporter penned in 2012, Rivers credited Carson with changing the trajectory of her career early on, establishing her as one of the greatest comedians in the business. Over the course of 18 years, she frequently appeared as a guest, performing her stand-up act, and filling in for Carson as a host. It led to Rivers to being offered her own late night show on Fox in the late 1980s (via New York Post).

Rivers said she called Carson immediately to tell him the good news. Instead of being happy for her, though, Carson hung up the phone and never spoke to Rivers again. "The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again. And then denied that I called him. ... I would see him in a restaurant and go over and say hello. He wouldn't talk to me."

She wrote, "I think it was a question of, 'I found you, and you're my property.' He didn't like that as a woman, I went up against him." According to the New York Post, Carson and Rivers never settled their differences. Carson died in 2005 (per the New York Times) and Rivers in 2014 (per CNN).