On Friday night, NBC aired the last episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The end of Leno’s 17 year tenure on the program is very impressive and is second only to Johnny Carson in his longevity on the program.
As we all know, Leno’s not leaving the airwaves for very long. His Tonight Show swan song is tempered by the fact that he’ll be returning next Fall with a five-nights-a-week show in primetime, The Jay Leno Show.
The last show has some distinctive moments but overall, Leno doesn’t stray too far from his regular format. He opens the night with a monologue and highlights of Leno’s regular man-on-the-street segment, “Jaywalking.”
Leno’s successor, Conan O’Brien is the final interviewee and the two share some fun repartee and stories about their unique jobs. The last musical guest is the legendary James Taylor. Leno, O’Brien, and Leno all herald from Massachusetts so it’s appropriate that Taylor performs “Sweet Baby James,” his 1970 song that mentions Boston and is a personal favorite of Leno’s.
At the end, the host thanks the audience, his staff, the crew, bandleader Kevin Eubanks, announcer John Melendez, and his wife for their support. He notes that the show was number one when he took over and that it’s still number one in the ratings as he hands it over to O’Brien. “So, I get my deposit back.”
Leno finishes by talking about being asked about his so-called “legacy.” He’s most proud that so many of his staffers have been with the program for all 17 years. He proudly presents Hannah, the 17-year-old daughter of trombone player Matt Fenders, who was born just weeks after the show debuted. Leno finishes by raising the curtain and presenting the 67 other children who have been born to his staff over the 17 years. He says goodbye once more, asks that the audience also support O’Brien, and joins the crowd of happy children. As the final credits roll, we see images of the members of the Tonight Show staff. Knowing Leno, they’ll all be working on the new show very soon.
In terms of ratings, Leno’s last episode didn’t come anywhere near Carson’s finale which was watched by an estimated 50-55 million people. At the same time, the episode did deliver the Tonight Show’s highest Friday night rating of the show’s 17 year run. Leno’s farewell averaged an 8.8 household rating/20 share in the 56 overnight metered markets with an estimated 10 million viewers. Final numbers will be released later this week.
Did you see the final show? If not, we’ve embedded the final moments below.
If you’d like to watch the entire last episode here it is:
Image courtesy NBC.