| BURBANK, Calif.
BURBANK, Calif. Feb 6 Comedian Jay Leno said an
emotional goodbye to the "Tonight Show" on Thursday with a
star-studded farewell led by actor Billy Crystal, after hosting
the NBC late night program for more than 20 years and handing
the reins over to Jimmy Fallon.
Leno, 63, who took over one of U.S. broadcast television's
marquee programs in 1992 from Johnny Carson, came out to a
standing ovation from the audience of friends and family,
shaking hands with many as he did in each show.
"I don't like goodbyes; NBC does," Leno quipped when opening
his monologue, poking fun at the network that orchestrated his
departure from the show in 2009 only to reinstall him back as
host less than a year later.
His final monologue was peppered with then-and-now
reflections on the changes since his tenure at "Tonight" began.
"When I started hosting, Justin Bieber wasn't even born yet.
That's why we call those the good ol' days," Leno said, poking
fun at the troubled Canadian teen pop star.
The silver-haired host ended the show on an emotional note,
saying, "This has been the greatest 22 years of my life," as he
rested his hand on his chin with tears welling in his eyes.
"It really is time for me to go and hand it off to the next
guy," the comedian added.
Leno's departure and Fallon's hire marks NBC's second
attempt to transition the "Tonight Show" into a program
appealing to the 18-34 year old demographic coveted by
advertisers while still maintaining its top spot in the
Fallon, 39, will be taking the "Tonight Show" back to its
New York roots for the first time since 1972, when NBC moved the
show with Carson to Burbank, California. Fallon will begin his
new hosting duties on Feb. 17 on the network owned by Comcast
A STAR-STUDDED FAREWELL
Leno ended his long-running late night tenure with one of
the guests from his first "Tonight Show" on May 25, 1992,
actor-comedian Crystal, who praised Leno for giving a comic's
levity to current events and "making us sleep better at night."
Crystal led a comic rendition of "So Long, Farewell" from
"The Sound of Music" that included guest appearances from Oprah
Winfrey, Jack Black, Carol Burnett, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons,
NBA basketball player Chris Paul and Kim Kardashian. Country
music star Garth Brooks was the musical guest, performing two
songs including his hit, "Friends in Low Places"
Leno also received pre-recorded farewells from celebrities
such as actors Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Sheen, sports
broadcaster Bob Costas and his successor Jimmy Fallon. Even
President Barack Obama, who in 2009 became the first sitting
president to appear on a late night talk show when he joined
Leno on "Tonight," delivered a pre-recorded goodbye.
The "Tonight Show" first aired on NBC in 1954 from New York
with host Steve Allen. Jack Paar hosted the show from 1957 until
Carson took over in 1962, and held his reign for 30 years,
before departing in 1992.
Leno led the "Tonight Show" to the top of the late night
ratings in 1995 and has held off competitors David Letterman's
"Late Show" on CBS and ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live." The show only
lost its grip atop the ratings when Conan O'Brien took over the
show for nine months in 2009-2010.
Over Leno's 22 years, he has been joined on the couch by
celebrities, politicians, athletes and pop culture figures.
Notable guests include Tom Cruise, Betty White, Hugh Grant,
former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, first lady Michelle
Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger and most recently, Miley Cyrus.
Leno's stint at "Tonight" became mired in controversy in
2009, when O'Brien replaced him on the show and Leno gained his
own self-titled late night talk show.
Both programs suffered poor ratings and NBC attempted to
push "Tonight Show" into a later timeslot behind Leno's show,
forcing O'Brien to end his contract with NBC, and Leno to return
to "Tonight" less than a year later.
The "Tonight Show" currently draws about 3.9 million viewers
per episode. In Leno's final week, the "Tonight Show" drew an
average of nearly 5 million viewers per episode.