Leno Signs Off ‘The Tonight Show’ for Second Time

Jay Leno's last 'Tonight Show,' Take

“I don’t like goodbyes; NBC does,” Jay Leno said in his latest last opening monologue, as he bid farewell to “The Tonight Show” — again — on Thursday night.

Characteristically, Leno wasn’t particularly maudlin or sentimental at first, at least compared to Johnny Carson’s “very heartfelt goodnight” that preceded Leno’s briefly interrupted stint as Carson’s successor.

In the closing moments, however, when it was just him at the desk, Leno did choke up, calling “The Tonight Show” “the greatest 22 years of my life,” talking about losing his parents in the first few years the show was on, and how the staff had become his family. Leno even quoted Carson’s sign-off, while saying he was “excited” for his successor, Jimmy Fallon.

“It really is time to go,” he said.

The role of honoring Leno fell largely to Billy Crystal, who lauded him as “America’s night light;” proceeded to reminisce about the early, hungry days of their 40-year relationship and careers; then treated Leno to a surprise rendition of a particularly appropriate song from “The Sound of Music,” performed by multiple stars, among them Oprah Winfrey.

Leno did build a routine around things that have changed in the 22 years since he first took over “The Tonight Show,” including the birth of Justin Bieber, and the fact “Guys actually had to go to the newsstand for porn.” He also referenced David Letterman, using the familiar joke that if people wanted to see millionaires argue on TV, “That’s what Republican primaries are for.”

Even then, though, Leno couldn’t resist throwing in several completely unrelated topical jokes, as if his exit wasn’t enough of an event to supersede weighing in, as he has for so many years, on the news of the day.

The early portion of the show included a list of cheeky taped farewells from other famous figures — including President Obama — but the best line might have belonged to Charlie Sheen, who advised Leno to use his considerable fortune to “Buy NBC, and fire everybody.”

Leno’s apparent emotional health and single-minded devotion to performing — harboring a struggling standup comic’s mentality and work ethic, even at the pinnacle of his career — may have made him less interesting than some of latenight’s other personalities and his comedy contemporaries (Letterman among them). Yet his aw-shucks demeanor — despite getting a second shove toward the door while sitting atop the latenight ratings — both appears to have served him well and simultaneously made this baton pass seem less momentous. It also made his show of emotion as surprising as it was touching.

Ultimately, Leno has little reason for a long face. Not only does he have more than 100 club dates booked, as he noted in an interview with Variety, but he has plenty of options. It’s just that none of them are the one that he and Letterman and Conan O’Brien and others have coveted and turned into TV’s version of a Shakespearean drama over the last 20-plus years.

Jimmy Fallon might fare better — and certainly is likely to hang around longer — than O’Brien did. Still, just as the legendary programming executive Grant Tinker characterized Carson’s “Tonight” tenure as “the biggest and best television has ever been,” with the 60-year-old program’s latest change in stewardship, the franchise just got a little smaller.


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  1. Delaware Conemaugh says:


  2. Heather says:

    HUGE mistake by N B C. I will never watch again due to the loss of Jay Leno! Politically driven for sure since government owns every move and every breath you take. Pathetic!!!!

  3. Sandy says:

    As a long time fan of Johnny Carson and then Jay Leno, I will not watch Jimmy Fallon. There are very little shows us 50+ viewers can enjoy and NBC pandering to a younger crowd is an insult.

  4. Ka Eaton says:

    Dear Jay, take your crew to Netflix and conquer the internet. You the best talk show host on the planet!

  5. Jay Leno… a simple but talented blue collar guy from Jersey who made it big… and yes, Mr. Obama… .he did build it.. he worked hard, treated people right and took the torch from the great Johnny Carson and ran a great 22 year race.

    We will miss you! Enjoy your cars and if you can, do your own TV show on classic cars. I would watch it every time!!

  6. spodie says:

    how to block nbc on my cable box

  7. Kenna Baker says:

    To Jay Leno,
    Jay, We will always REMEMBER you, we will always LOVE you, and most of all Jay, YOU ROCK!!! I am sure Jimmy Fallon will succeed adding his own style to the show. But it is Jay who I watched almost every night for 22 yrs!!! You are greatly appreciated by the American Public Mr. Leno…

    The Bakers/Bradenton Florida

  8. Drea says:

    Boycotting NBC, So long Jay and thank you for making me laugh every night! Class act!

  9. Jason Burnstein says:

    No more NBC for me and I cannot stand the alternatives. Letterman is a nasty , lecherous old man and Fallon is sophmoric and silly, and Kimmel does not have a clue…..

  10. Sherri B says:

    Although I used to enjoy his humor on occasion, I have not watched Jimmy Fallon since the Michele Bachmann incident in 2011. It’s not that I’m a big Bachmann fan (in fact, I think she’s a bit nutty), but that was reprehensibly rude. So, unless Fallon and his band offer a real, honest, heartfelt apology – not the standard “sorry if anyone was offended” or in this case “sorry about the intro mess” non-apology – I’m either switching from Jay to the other Jimmy (Kimmel), or just going to bed earlier.

    Jay always had the class to keep his personal politics on a leash. Fallon – and his peeps – should have had the good sense to do the same.

  11. Carolyn says:

    Jay Leno has class. NBC screws up again.

  12. **He also referenced David Letterman, using the familiar joke that if people wanted to see millionaires argue on TV, “That’s what Republican primaries are for.”**

    Yeah, those poor folks in democrat primaries are barely getting by, lol. Meanwhile, something like 7 of the 10 richest people in Congress are democrats.

  13. P. Lisken says:

    Big deal. Never watched Tonight after Carson left.

  14. GlarryB says:

    There is absolutely nothing funny about Jimmy Kimmel. He’s just not a comedian…. nor is he a replacement for Jay. another bad decision by the suits at NBC.

  15. NVRAT says:

    Well we will se ya on FOX Jay, have good vacation.

  16. eileen dudek says:

    I just want to thank Jay for all of his years of entertaining us with his wonderful smile,funny jokes, intelligent interviews with people from all walks of life-Presidents, astronauts, and actors.There will be no replacing you. Please come back into television soon. Eileen Dudek from Medford Massachusetts

  17. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha says:

    I do not blame Leno. Who would stand for goodbyes accompanied with peals of laughter?

  18. Kip Petzold says:

    Even when the WSJ lacked the courage to report issues, Leno would cover them with appropriate mockery. For a while we got our NEWS from The Tonight Show. Leno loved to to show John Huang running around with his money bag of illegal chinese campaign cash. The Clinton’s had to hate the guy. But he was funny. But Gore was funny even without the comedy show – as he sat robotically at the Buddhist Temple, laundering thousands of dollars of campaign cash from monks vowed to poverty – with a major crime figure next to him and John Huang in the background. No wonder it was tantalizing material for a comedian.

  19. Dan says:

    “. . .that if people wanted to see millionaires argue on TV, “That’s what Republican primaries are for.””

    Why just Republican primaries? It’s not like the Democratic elite aren’t a bunch of millionaires too.

    Of the top ten richest members of congress, seven are Democrats.

  20. rotorhead1871 says:

    jay needs another gig……he will do just fine….he needs to get away from the tonighte show though as his conan screwing is what everyone remembers….

  21. Tru'Grit says:

    I can know go to be earlier since I have no interest in watching Fallon, Letterman or Conan! The network is crazy. Take a guy on top of the ratings off prematurely because they’re afraid that Fallon will move to another network and they won’t have anyone to replace Leno in 5 years?

  22. jbw says:

    It’s too bad Kimmel wasn’t considered (?) for Leno’s chair….his wit and amiability make Fallon look like an insurance salesman…

  23. Bob White says:

    If Fallon’s frat house/SNL humor does not sell, Jay will not be available to bail them out. Jay seems kind of in a funk right now. I think the NBC suits actually made him believe that he is not talented or hip enough for the new demographic – being number one in ratings notwithstanding Hopefully a few months of rest and clear thinking will rid him of that lie. Jay is a middle of the road liberal and unfortunately liberals can be made to feel shame for being old or white.

    • J Keats says:

      I think you are on the right path. Add to it, he seems very done with NBC and their load of garbage they keep making him deal with.
      He’s a class act despite them!

  24. Jacques Strappe says:

    I watched The Tonight Show last evening for the first time in a few years. Watching Leno’s opening monologue reminded me why I had stopped watching regularly. He has a likeable presence but his jokes feel more like Las Vegas or Catskills shtick, so I mostly agree with his own admission that it was time to go. That being said, new comics and humor today have taken on such a decidedly harder, more mean spirited and vulgar quality that almost makes me yearn for the cheesy, mostly inoffensive humor of Leno. It’s all a ratings game with advertisers falling all over themselves trying to reach the coveted 18-49 demo. Fallon is probably a good replacement for Leno since he has an edge to his mostly gentle comedic style that could appeal to a wide range of ages. But viewers don’t readily embrace change so this is not a slam dunk for Fallon whose humor includes a lot of sketch based bits, not unlike Jimmy Kimmel whose show is probably his closest comparison in comedy style. Let’s face it, these talk shows seem to devote less and less time to actually talking to their guests which is relegated to the last 20 minutes or so of the program. Late night television seems to be crying out, “come for the side splitting monologue and raucous sketches, but please do hang around for the guests and their ubiquitous plugs.”

  25. Bob White says:

    Waiting on Jay to go to Fox or another network. Waiting on Duck Dynasty to get off A&E. I won’t be watching Jimmy Fallon on NBC or anything on A&E.

  26. Mel Smith says:

    One has to wonder about the sanity of the executives at NBCUniversal when they teminate the guy
    ho is still number one in the time period. Having a plan for following Jay’s retirement is wise. Fallon was
    going anywhere. NBC has proven their lack of programming accumen once again.

  27. YouDude60 says:

    Jay’s good work will stand the test of time. The NBC of 22 years ago deserves credit for selecting him.

    The NBC of today is bought and paid for by GE– and its incestuous relationship with the FedGov.
    So, Fallon’s every word and deed will reflect his secure grasp onto GE’s- and the
    Progressive Left’s- teat.


  28. Darrel Mason says:

    Late nite comedy suffers from lack of diversity. All of the players are heterosexual men. The closest we had to something genuinely new and funny would have been Joan Rivers to succeed Carson in 1992. Leno was a poor substitute. America still does not have its Graham Norton. Fallon is simply not funny and will fade quickly like Obrien did. We could use a woman or out gay person to do a late night show.

    • Tru'Grit says:

      Why don’t you start a LGBT network so that less than 5% of the population can have their own programing?

    • Keith Horn says:

      Joan Rivers had a show on late night “FAILED” ! There have been many attempts by others to enter into the late night arena not many of them have stuck. Leno did a wonderful job and left some big shoes to fill. I don’t think Fallon is the man who will ultimately fill them. Looking back though I am so happy that Jay was chosen over Letterman for the coveted desk.

      • Jacques Strappe says:

        Darrel Mason, wouldn’t a Jewish host interviewing all Jewish comics be redundant:) Oy.

      • Darrel Mason says:

        I should have said a gay person, woman or JEW. There is such and incredible amount of Jewish comedic talent out there. Goys are simply boring. Too much “straight man” comedy… just not funny.

  29. sabo says:

    Class act.
    Bye Jay, I know we’ll be seeing more of you in
    The future….

  30. Jennifer Logan says:

    No desire whatsoever to watch Fallon. Leno will be missed.

  31. mtm105 says:

    Consider that Carson was a mean spirited, tobacco addicted wife beater. Then, consider Leno. Leno may not have been as magical and inspiring as Carson, but Leno didn’t go through multiple wife jokes, either. Carson was a seemingly dysfunctional character during a seemingly dysfunctional time period. Maybe people should consider Leno the gold standard, not Carson.

  32. desert says:

    NBC stands for “No Brain Culls”!!!

  33. Jim57 says:

    Carson was great – Leno is great – Fallon has big shoes to fill – good luck!

  34. tybeejim says:

    While I really like Leno, it seems to me that this is a good decision for NBC. Sure the population is older, but it’s also dying, being replaced by a much younger demographic that is drawn to Fallon. At 71, I enjoy Fallon’s good nature and talent. He’s not like Leno, Letterman, but much more like Carson who did skits, e.g. Karnak, and impressions, things at which Fallon excels.

  35. Carolina Dad says:

    I started watching Johnny in the 70’s and stayed on when Jay took over. Jay made me chuckle and laugh after a bad day at work or sick kids at home. I believe for many it was late local news/weather then a good laugh with Jay before going to bed. Garth’s Brook’s the Last Dance probably summed up in a song how many of us felt, watching Jay’s last show. The only good thing I see for me personally is I will now get to bed a lot sooner. Thank you Jay…Good bye, Farewell, Amen.

  36. RedRiver says:

    NBC does it again. BIG FAIL.

  37. Barry bin Inhalin says:

    This is going to be kind of funny, in an ironic way. Jay will take some time off – let’s say the summer – and re-appear on a brand new show on the Fox network. Fallon will fall to #2 (if he even retains the #1 spot over Letterman, and then old Dave can do what he does best (bring up the rear).

  38. Haywood_Jablomi says:

    NBC has a coporate slogan “If it ain’t broke – break it.”

  39. b.mclane says:

    Could not agree more. Fallon’s skits are amusing but he has all the realness of a used car salesman. I cannot stand his interviews, with his fake over the top laugh. His nose is pushed so far up the derriere’s of his guest its hard to understand his questions. Hashtag hope he is gone soon

  40. Morphy Smith says:

    letterman is pathetic and for the writer to claim that Leno was less interesting than letterman is an insult to Leno.

  41. Fred- 90 years old says:

    Jay, what a pig!

  42. C King says:

    I’m going to miss ole Jay. He is so natural and homespun. He has a car collection 2nd to none, and his Youtube series ‘Jay’s Garage’ is one of my favorites.

  43. bargal1 says:

    If we are lucky, FOX will sign an extraordinary talent to their lineup and replace one of the re-runs of their shows on Sunday’s or each night that they run re-runs of the news. Lighten up FOX and get some humor and shw NBC how it is done (literally DONE)

  44. Jerry Frey says:

    Jay Leno’s recent shows were very entertaining. I watched his last show last night and saw Johnny Caron’s final show. Jay Leno was a worthy successor to the King of Late Night.


  45. 1peevedbob says:

    Fallon is not worthy of cleaning the dog crap out the shoes of Conan O’Brien who proved he wasn’t good enough to do the TONIGHT SHOW.
    That being said, I think it is obvious that I, FOR ONE, WILL NEVER WATCH FALLON IN ANYTHING HE DOES….
    See you next year Mr. Leno.

  46. donfitness says:

    Haven’t watched the tonight show in years for three reasons. N B C

    • 1peevedbob says:

      Those are three excellent reasons for not watching the tonight show. Of the 168 hours of programming offered by NBC, the tonight show is the only part of an hour that I occasionally watched.
      NBC is so much on my TV radar, that if I were to ever want or need to see that network, I have to key in the channel number. It will NEVER be on my favorites list.

  47. John says:

    Good luck to Jay hope he goes to FOX then we will see him .

  48. Tammy Terrell says:

    This is just one more case of where NBC is out of touch with main stream America. I don’t watch anything on this network except Leno. Now, I’m done with them.

  49. Pam Bendele says:

    I will truly miss Jay. I will no longer get to say to my husband ( my husband works nights ) guess what Jay Leno said last night. I will no longer get to laugh at headlines or Jaywalking. I will no longer dream of being on The Tonight Show should I become famous. This past weeks’ shows were good, funny, and sad at the same time. As Jay Leno leaves The Tonight Show as host, I leave as a viewer. I have no interest in the show unless NBC gets smart and brings Jay Leno back. I hope to see Jay on some other network.

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