Jay Leno is leaving The Tonight Show for the second time in his incredible 22-year run as the top-rated late night host. This time the 63 year-old comedy star says he has no regrets, and he’s happy for Jimmy Fallon who will take over the show’s reins. But Leno is sad to be leaving the Burbank home of his broadcasts and Fallon is moving his Tonight Show to New York.
Fallon follows Leno and previous talk show greats Johnny Carson, Jack Parr, and Steve Allen. Jimmy reports he and Jay are friends and Leno has given him some good advice to make a smooth transition to NBC’s 11:35 p.m. spot. Leno’s last show is Thursday, Feb. 6, with a visit from Billy Crystal, who was Jay’s first guest. Jay’s final night will also feature music from country superstar Garth Brooks. On Friday, Feb. 7, NBC covers the opening ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Leno first exited the Tonight Show May 29, 2009 to headline his short-lived five-nights-a-week primetime NBC variety show which was launched that fall. It turned out to be a fiasco for the network, and in the spring of 2010, Leno’s replacement Conan O’Brien was replaced by Leno, and Tonight Show ratings soared once again.
He’s had a great run on the chat show, starting in 1992 when Johnny Carson retired as the late night king and Leno got the gig amidst a little controversy involving David Letterman who coveted the spot.
It was an interesting road full of laughs that led Jay to hosting The Tonight Show. After getting his degree from Emerson College in Boston, Leno wanted to try a career in show business. His friends all thought he was a funny guy, so he started playing small clubs around the country. Then he moved to Los Angeles getting television work as a comedian and as a comedy writer.
Leno first appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson on March 2, 1977. Carson thought the kid with the big chin was funny and was invited back, and eventually became the permanent guest host. After Carson announced his retirement, NBC offered Jay the show. Unusual in Hollywood, the likable comedian says he struck a deal and accepted contracts with a simple handshake, trusting people at their word.
“I didn’t want to own the show. I didn’t want to be the boss. I liked doing the show and writing jokes, that’s the part I enjoyed,” Leno once told me.
Regarding his current relationship with NBC, peacock executives say they’d still like to have Leno at the network in some capacity, although no details have been given.
Now that he is leaving, Leno says he’ll take it easy but travel and play comedy dates. He also has other passions. He has written children’s books “If Roast Beef Could Fly” and “How to Be the Funniest Kid in the Whole Wide World,” his autobiography “Leading with My Chin,” and published several compilations of his favorite funny newspaper clips taken from his “Headlines” comedy routine. And being a motor enthusiast, Jay will have even more time to spend working in his garage and adding to his impressive collection of classic cars and motorcycles.
The new Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon premieres Monday, Feb. 17, with first guests Will Smith and U2. When asked if he could see himself hosting the show as long as Leno (22 years) or Carson (30 years), Fallon said, “I’m 39 now. If I’m lucky enough, I’d love to stay that long. It’s crazy to even think that way. I’m happy I’m here five years at Late Night. We’re just having a good time. I’m just going to play it by ear and keep my head down and just work as hard as I can and see how long that gets me.”
Taking over in Fallon’s late night spot is Saturday Night Live alumnus Seth Meyers who will debut Late Night with Seth Meyers Monday, Feb. 24, on NBC. Good luck and good night.