The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Congenial Host Signs Off After 17 Years

The Tonight Show with Jay LenoThis evening marks the end of Jay Leno’s run on the Tonight Show. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since he took over from Johnny Carson.

As most everyone knows, Leno has a reputation for being one of the nicest and unassuming guys in Hollywood. The latter is apparent even in the show’s title. While Carson was billed as “Starring,” Leno’s name in the title is simply preceded by “with.” When he leaves the chair this evening, he’ll be the second longest host in the show’s history — easily outlasting broadcasting legends like Jack Paar and Steve Allen. When a radio host recently made him aware of this fact, Leno simply commented, “Oh, that’s pretty good.”

He’s also considered to be extremely hardworking and, unlike his predecessors, Leno’s never relied on guest hosts. The only person to substitute for him was Katie Couric, as part of a 2003 publicity stunt in which Couric and Leno traded jobs for a day.

Tonight will mark Leno’s 3,775th show as full-time host. Though Carson hosted Tonight for 13 years longer, he only taped 756 more episodes. This is because, in his later years, Carson took frequent vacations, employed guest hosts, and didn’t shoot on Fridays.

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Though Leno doesn’t make many headlines, he’s been winning the late-night ratings wars for years, sometimes by as much as 25% in total viewership.

All this week, Leno’s been having back some favorite guests from the past 16 years, including Billy Crystal who was his first guest on May 25, 1992. Leno has invited Conan O’Brien to be his last guest this evening, providing a natural segue to O’Brien taking over on Monday night.

This will also mark the last time that the Tonight Show will be produced out of the NBC studios in “beautiful downtown Burbank.” Carson moved his operation from New York in May 1972 and it’s been there ever since. NBC-Universal has built a much bigger, more elaborate studio on the Universal Studios lot in Universal City for The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.

Though tonight’s finale is the end of an era, it hardly seems as newsworthy as the end of Carson’s run. After all, Carson was leaving television. Leno will be back in the Fall with a new but similar show, on the same network and five nights a week.

Still, the passing of the torch isn’t lost on Leno personally. He said, “Will I miss it? Yes, terribly. It’s the most wonderful job ever in show business.”

Will you miss Jay Leno’s Tonight Show? Over 50 million people tuned in to see Carson say goodbye, how many will watch Leno’s series finale? Will you?

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