For millions of late night TV fans in both in Fresno and all over the world, this is the end of an era. After a 22 years run on America’s most famous late-night talk show, American comedian Jay Leno officially retired from the job that made him a household name.
Announcement of Leno’s retirement was first made on April 3, 2013, and that his final episode would air tonight, after NBC’s coverage first day coverage of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. It was also announced that Leno’s replacement would be none other than former Saturday Night Live cast member and current Late Night host Jimmy Fallon.
Looking sharp in a black suit and bright blue tie, Leno was greeted by an ovation from the VIP audience. The typically self-contained comic betrayed a bit of nervousness, stumbling over a few lines in his monologue. He didn’t trip over his opening line, however – a final dig at his employer. “You’re very kind,” he told the audience. “I don’t like goodbyes. NBC does.”
As seen on Thursday’s episode, and as outlined on AOL.com, During the show, Leno became tearful and choked up as he concluded what he called the “greatest 22 years of my life.”
Elaborating, he said, “I am the luckiest guy in the world.” Leno revealed that he’d lost his mother the first year he became Tonight host, his dad during his second year, and then his brother. “And after that I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family.” He closed his final remarks by wishing the best of luck to Jimmy Fallon and by quoting his predecessor, the legendary Johnny Carson, “I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.”
It was a tender finish to a farewell show that was mostly aiming for laughs, with traditional monologue jokes, clips from old shows and a wild assortment of celebrities guests, including musical guest Garth Brooks, and such surprise guests as Sheryl Crow and Oprah Winfrey. For his final guest, Leno chose actor Billy Crystal, who was also his guest on his very first episode of the show in 1992, making Crystal’s appearance a fitting bookend to a highly successful 22-year run. Crystal even played ringmaster at one point, calling on Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Carol Burnett and others for a musical tribute to Jay with a Sound of Music song parody.
Before Leno made his farewell remarks, Garth Brooks performed his touching song “The Dance.” After his farewell remarks, Leno joked, “Now that I brought the room down,” asking Brooks to lighten the mood. And so another Brooks’ song, “Friends in Low Places,” closed out the show as Leno gave a final shoutout to his wife of more than 30 years, Mavis: “I’m coming home, honey!”
Of course, this was not Leno’s first departure from The Tonight Show, the first being the infamous 2009 controversy where he was briefly replaced by Conan O’Brien, only to return to the show after a messy transition and O’Brien’s lackluster ratings. That year, Leno was given a prime-time show on NBC, The Jay Leno Show, which was ultimately cancelled upon his return to The Tonight Show. Upon Leno taking back his job, O’Brien would later be given his own late-nigh talk show, Conan, on TBS.
As for what he will be doing now that time on the show is over, Leno has said he’ll focus on comedy clubs and his beloved car collection.
“It’s been a wonderful job. This is the right time to leave,” Leno said last week, and make way for the next generation.
The evening was emotional, and will be remembered as a classic television moment much like when Johnny Carson had his own farewell episode on May 22, 1992, and much like in that unforgettable television event, the impact of Thursday’s show was clearly felt be cast and crew and millions of loyal viewers alike.
Jimmy Fallon will host his very first episode of The Tonight Show, for which he will also take over as writer & executive producer, starting on February 17, 2014. Meanwhile, Fallon’s previous show, Late Night, will be taken over by fellow SNL alum Seth Meyers, after Fallon’s final episode of Late Night, which airs tonight with special guests Andy Samberg and the Muppets.