Shortly after the accident, Leno said in a statement to Fox News Digital, “I got some serious burns from a gasoline fire. I am OK. Just need a week or two to get back on my feet.” The 72-year-old retired “Tonight Show” host was fixing a 1907 White Steam Car when something went wrong. His buddy stepped into action while they were working on the classic car in his garage in November.
In an interview with the “Today” show, Leno described the moment he “got a face full of gas” while he and a friend were in his garage trying to fix a more than 100-year-old vehicle on Nov. 12. He said he was under the car when his friend blew some air through a fuel line, gas came out, the pilot light jumped and his face caught fire. Leno was similarly optimistic, speaking two days after the incident in a statement shared with PEOPLE. “I got some serious burns from a gasoline fire,” he said. “I am okay. Just need a week or two to get back on my feet.”
(Under that scenario, Leno would have taken Kimmel’s time slot and become his lead-in.) However, after Leno made the arrangement to remain at NBC, “those conversations were gone,” according to Kimmel. Realizing that Leno’s relationship with him had been artificial, Kimmel felt “worked over,” reasoning that Leno was using the ABC discussions as a bargaining tactic to try to get his old job back. Leno hosted a one-hour Jay Leno’s Garage special on CNBC, and the show has aired as a primetime series on the cable channel since 2015. Leno’s new show, The Jay Leno Show, debuted on September 14, 2009. It was announced at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that it would feature one or two celebrities, occasional musical guests, and keep the popular “Headlines” segments, which would be near the end of the show.
Responding to the mounting criticism, Leno said NBC had assured him that O’Brien was willing to accept the proposed arrangement and that they would not let either host out of his contract. He also said that the situation was “all business”, and that all of the decisions were made by NBC. He appeared on the January 28, 2010 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in an attempt to repair some of the damage done to his public image.
“But really, it was an accident, that’s all. Anybody who works with their hands on a regular basis is going to have an accident at some point.” Dr. Grossman shared that when Leno initially came in, the comedian’s “burns were deeper” than he had anticipated. “Jay is definitely an outlier in terms of how well he’s healed considering the severity of his injuries,” Dr. Grossman said.
Though he consistently lost in the ratings to Letterman except on special occasions, like Hugh Grant’s first TV appearance after his encounter withDivine Brown, he surged ahead in 1996, as CBS plunged further into oblivion. Despite the controversy, Leno soon earned a reputation for his cordial, easygoing manner, strong work ethic, and knack for connecting with his audience. Under Leno’s leadership, the program garnered four Emmy Awards (1995–97; 1999), and Leno was awarded numerous accolades, including a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 2000. By 2008 the show was attracting more than five million nightly viewers, nearly one and a half times as many as its nearest rival, the Late Show. He has a regular column in Popular Mechanics which showcases his car collection and gives advice about various automotive topics, including restoration and unique models, such as his jet-powered motorcycle and solar-powered hybrid. Leno also writes occasional “Motormouth” articles for The Sunday Times, reviewing high-end sports cars and giving his humorous take on motoring matters.
On July 1, 2010, Variety reported that total viewership for Leno’s Tonight Show had dropped from 5 million to 4 million for the second quarter of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009. Although it represented the show’s lowest second-quarter ratings since 1992, Tonight was still the most-watched late night program, ahead of ABC’s Nightline (3.7 million) and Late Show with David Letterman (3.3 million). He left The Tonight Show on Friday, May 29, 2009, and Conan O’Brien took over on June 1, 2009. On “Jay Leno’s Garage,” Leno chats with car enthusiasts about favorite makes and models in addition to showing off his prized collection of cars, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
The July 1995 episode of The Tonight Show which featured an interview with Hugh Grant saw Leno rate higher than Letterman for the first time. “Eight days later, I had a brand new face,” the comedian wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the gasoline fire that left him needing surgery for burns to his face, chest and hands. “Anybody who works with their hands on a regular basis is going to have an accident at some point,” the host of schd vs voo’s Garage wrote Sunday about his recent garage gasoline fire. Leno has maintained an active schedule as a touring stand-up comedian, doing an average of 200 live performances a year in venues across the United States and Canada and at charity events and USO tours.