Jay Leno's Final Tonight Show Hits 5-Year Ratings High: The 5 Most Memorable Moments

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The Tonight Show with Jay Leno - Season 22After 22 years, Jay Leno bid a nostalgia-filled adieu to The Tonight Show, celebrating a late-night TV legacy that — setting aside his infamous temporary replacement by Conan O’Brien in 2009-’10 — arguably rivals all except predecessor Johnny Carson’s legendary 30-year reign over the NBC juggernaut.

But did Leno’s farewell — which netted the show’s highest overnight rating since March 2009 — contain anything as moving as Bette Midler’s now iconic “One For My Baby” sendoff of Carson, which moved most of America (and Johnny himself) to tears back in 1992?

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Despite the presence of special guests Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks, the 63-year-old Leno’s finale was an oddly un-emotional affair, at least until the last few minutes. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t noteworthy components. In fact, you’ll find our picks for Top 5 Memorable Moments below:

One Last Monologue | It may have been a sentimental night, but that doesn’t mean Leno’s writers had the night off. The host delivered his usual mix of political and pop-cultural zingers, including this parting shot at a favored target: “I’ve got to tell you, the outpouring from people has really been touching. Anthony Weiner sent me a photo of his penis looking really sad.” And this one: “The worst thing about losing this job, I’m no longer covered by NBC. I have to sign up for Obamacare!” Meanwhile, an iffy pre-taped segment showed Leno’s favorite politicians (can you name one that wasn’t in this collage?) digitally manipulated into eye-popping activities (Obama and Mitt Romney jamming to “Call Me Maybe”).

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Surprise “Musical” Guests | Everyone knew that Garth Brooks was planning to perform Leno’s favorite track, “The Dance,” but the country star wasn’t the only one who brought the gift of music. Billy Crystal and the Shut Your Von Trapp Family Singers were joined by Oprah Winfrey Jack Black, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, NBA star Chris Paul and the legendary Carol Burnett (plus, Kim Kardashian — the night’s most glaring misstep) for a cheeky, customized rendition of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. Best line? Definitely Oprah’s concluding verse: “So long, farewell, you really raised the bar. If you were me, you’d buy them all a car!”

First Guest, Last Guest | Because Billy Crystal helped launch Leno’s Tonight Show career, he appropriately returned tonight for a few minutes of stand-up (“When it was announced recently that America’s No. 1 terrorist had been captured, who told us it was Justin Bieber? You did.”), and one last sit-down interview.

What’s Next for Jay? | Of course, not every special guest could show up in person. Taped segments included Bob Costas (hilariously swigging out of a Jack Daniels bottle), Kevin Bacon (showing off a naked portrait of – who else? – Jay himself) and President Barack Obama. “You made a lot of jokes about me over the years – I’m not upset,” said POTUS, who then appointed Leno as the new Ambassador to Antarctica. “Hope you’ve got a coat funny man!” Other sightings included Bill Maher, Mark Wahlberg, Miley Cyrus, Charlie Sheen, Matt Damon and even a sexy, steamed up Martha Stewart — hoping for Jay to get a “Hall Pass” and sample her bacon-kini!

A Classy (and Tear-Stained) Goodbye | His voice quivered at times throughout the night, but Leno really let the tears flow as he bid his final farewell (from his desk) by thanking his loyal audience: “We wouldn’t be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents and astronauts and movie stars. It’s just been incredible.” Leno’s heartfelt memories of his parents and brother (who all passed away during his 22 years on the show) were incredibly intimate and touching, and his parting words were the same as Carson’s: “I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.”

And with that, it’s your turn. What was your favorite moment of Leno’s farewell? Leave your comments and take our poll below!


Comments (59)

  • I’ve always liked Jay and thought his last show was touching. I cried right along with him, especially when he talked about his parents and brother and his TV family. I wish good things for him and thank him for all the years of laughter.

    Comment by MP – February 6, 2014 10:17 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • As always… Jay was sincere, classy and funny. He will be greatly missed. Late nite wont be the same.

      Comment by Denise – February 6, 2014 11:25 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • Totally agree with you Denise….

        Comment by Ms. Diane M. Berkheiser, Frackville Pennsylvania – February 7, 2014 04:03 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • I’m sorry, did you just describe Jay Leno as sincere & classy? Some people may find him funny but sincere & classy he certainly is not.

        Comment by Deena – February 7, 2014 07:36 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
        • Thank you, Mrs. Letterman!

          Comment by Tom Curtin – February 7, 2014 08:16 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
          • If Deena is Mrs. Letterman, I must be their boy, Harry, because I agree with her/ It astounds me how many people have been snowed by his “aw, shucks” shtick.

            Comment by TV Gord – February 7, 2014 09:07 AM PDT  
      • I agree 100 percent! Jay will be missed! He is indeed one classy guy! I teared up when he was talking about his family.

        Comment by Allyson – February 7, 2014 06:51 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Last night was so touching. I’ll miss Jay. Too bad Kevin Eubanks wasn’t able to make it, but it was nice of Jay to mention him. Good luck to him in his future endeavours!

      Comment by TvPeong – February 7, 2014 08:07 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • why was kim kardashian there???

    Comment by u – February 7, 2014 12:34 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • this

      Comment by eddie – February 7, 2014 01:50 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • Better yet, why was Kim in the MIDDLE?!?!

        Comment by Kevin H. – February 7, 2014 03:30 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
        • Yeah is that really the last picture he wants of his late night experienced. Sort of tainted..

          Comment by Josh – February 7, 2014 06:43 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
        • 1. She’s a media whore and MUST be the center of attention. Always.

          2. Jay likes boobs.

          Comment by Bob Johnson – February 7, 2014 07:28 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Good riddance (again), you unfunny man.

    Comment by NoLeno – February 7, 2014 02:52 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Didn”t your parents teach you if you can not say something nice then do not say anything at all.Loved your showJay loved your show and you will truly be missed.

      Comment by Sharon Rossborough – February 8, 2014 07:23 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Only way I’ll watch this episode is for Garth.

    Comment by Esaul – February 7, 2014 03:38 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Kudos to Jay Leno for bidding adieu with the same style and class that he hosted the Tonight Show with. I feel that NBC has made a huge mistake in replacing him. I have seen Mr. Fallon’s style and do not find it appealing – so I will be looking for something else to watch in that time slot. Wishing Jay Leno only the best of things to come ~ Most Sincerely, Diane M. Berkheiser

    Comment by Ms. Diane M. Berkheiser, Frackville Pennsylvania – February 7, 2014 04:00 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • He’ll be back. You can’t kill cockroaches.

    Comment by WonderWaage – February 7, 2014 04:18 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Agreed :)

      Comment by Deena – February 7, 2014 07:33 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Well, you are here speaking for cockroaches–so, I guess you’d know……..

      Comment by Raid – February 8, 2014 01:51 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Kim kardashian?! WTF!

    Comment by Mary – February 7, 2014 04:58 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Media whore.

      Comment by Bob Johnson – February 7, 2014 07:29 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • It was a wonderful episode, I’ve really enjoyed his whole final month.

    Comment by If you don't like Leno kill yourself – February 7, 2014 05:18 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • It was touching the first time he left. Not so much this time.

    Comment by Mark R. Cheathem – February 7, 2014 05:28 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • “Arguably rivals” Johnny? Only in duration, perhaps, but not in any other way. Sorry, but IMHO he wasn’t as funny, clever, or classy as Johnny. His jokes were tepid, at best, and at his worst, his first retirement and subsequent treatment of Conan was truly appalling. There’s karma for that, and I think it says a lot in the fact that Johnny never wanted Jay to be the successor, but never publicly did anything to sabatoge Jay’s run. Johnny just quietly gave David Letterman jokes to use.

    Comment by Guest – February 7, 2014 06:02 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • And what is Conan’s karma for demanding Jay’s job or he walks? If he had waited a few more years, Jay may have been ready to go. Jay did not go to Conan and offer him his position, Jay’s bosses did after Conan reportedly threw down his demands. Conan started the whole mess and is reaping what he sowed.

      Comment by Kristen V – February 7, 2014 09:32 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • If I remember correctly the ratings sucked with Conan there. I personally don’t watch any late night TV since I have a job that gets me up early. Conan should throw shades at NBC for putting Leno back in.

        Comment by Mary – February 7, 2014 12:44 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Johnny wasn’t in charge of the network. His successor was not his decision to make.

      Comment by NJMark – February 7, 2014 09:44 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • exactly! what performer in any show gets to pick there replacement/ Did Alan Alda get to decide what would play in Mash’s time slot? Nor did Johnny ever SAY he wanted Letterman to replace him. Perhaps the two men (Dave and Johnny) happened to have a friendship. End of story.

        Comment by Teopa Sano-Reve – February 9, 2014 03:21 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Jay’s monologues were the best of any of the late night shows since Johnny Carson. Maybe I’m old school, but I really don’t see the humor in most of the younger comedian’s attempts.

    Comment by John – February 7, 2014 06:05 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Don’t forget the * next to the 22 years. Lest we forget that we went through this again when Conan took over. I don’t deny the impact Leno has had on late night, but it’s very hard for me to stomach the way he treated Conan. Also, I’m fairly certain Leno will pop up on cable –don’t be surprised if he has a late night show on HBO or TNT or something. He’s not going anywhere and the cable powerhouses are salivating at the thought of having him join their team.

    Comment by kd83954 – February 7, 2014 06:53 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • If all his previous shows had the quality of last night’s show, he would have been watchable. Interesting how he had Matt Damon and Sheryl Crow on, who were prominently featured a year ago when Damon “kidnapped” Jimmy Kimmel.

    Comment by Bob Johnson – February 7, 2014 07:31 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I really appreciated his sincere and surprising apologies to Conan and Dave. without those, it really just came off as continuing the tradition of self-serving crap that….

    wait… I’m being told that never happened. nevermind… it sucked.

    Comment by matt – February 7, 2014 07:37 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Why did he have to apologize to Conan and Dave? Conan demanded Jay’s job from Jay’s bosses and Jay took a job he was offered by NBC. NBC did not offer the job to Dave. What would YOU have done? Bypassed a good offer? Have you done this in your own work? Have you given up a job you like, make good money at and still are doing well for someone else who wants your job?

      Comment by Kristen V – February 7, 2014 10:10 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • you have a very interesting (read: distorted) perspective on these things. as far as what i would do, i haven’t been put in that situation, but i would not accept a job that had been promised to someone i call a friend for any amount of money. first, because it’s the right thing to do and second because, who would want to work for those people?

        Comment by matt – February 7, 2014 10:29 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
        • Re: “job that had been promised to someone I call friend…” Who are you referring to? Dave or Conan? Dave and Jay were friends, yes. Johnny wished the job on Dave, but he wasn’t in charge. NBC offered the job to Jay. Were Conan and Jay friends? I don’t know. But again, NBC offered Jay’s job to Conan, Jay did not initiate the job change.

          Comment by Kristen V – February 7, 2014 10:47 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • so not true – conan didn’t demand the job any more than anyone did for johnny. however the nbc executives decided, they executed the transition poorly, like they did for the today show and ann curry, but, jay could have bowed out graciously (as he first did) and then try a new venture, where he wouldn’t have hurt his image. As it stands, he looks like a poor loser who whined about his successor and demanded to get his job back.

        Comment by jason – February 7, 2014 11:09 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I’m sorry I was too busy watching Jimmy Kimmel interview (almost) the entire cast of Monuments Men. Great counter programming. I want to know what those ratings were.

    Comment by Gerald – February 7, 2014 08:37 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • According to tvbythenumbers.com, Leno usually doubles the number of viewers Kimmel has, so I imagine last night was even worst for Kimmel. For the week of 1/27 to 1/31, Leno averaged 5 million per night while Kimmel averaged 2.4 million.

      Comment by Paul – February 7, 2014 10:42 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • The whole debacle with Conan ruined his legacy and any opportunity you could ever have to put his name anywhere near Johnny Carson’s . Johnny NEVER would have done what Jay did. You can say it was all NBC’s fault until you are blue in the face and it still does not change what JAY did. He could have said no and kept his dignity. And if any of you were ever on the fence about his judgement until last night, two words for you: Kim Kardashian.

    Comment by Jen – February 7, 2014 09:30 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • i could care less that he’s gone or will he screw over jimmy fallon like he did conan!!!!!!

    Comment by barbara – February 7, 2014 10:22 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Conan walked away with around 35 to 45 million dollars–where do I go to get screwed over like that?

      Comment by Raid – February 8, 2014 01:57 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Why so much negativity from you all? If you didn’t like the show, then why watch?! Please go back to watching Conan or Arsenio, or the Disney Channel or whatever it is you watch late night. I’ll miss Jay, and I think Jimmy Fallon will do just fine. I am wondering what changes he will bring to the show.

    Comment by Heathers – February 7, 2014 11:00 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • What a bunch of sourpusses many of you are. I seriously doubt that anyone was holding a gun over anyone’s head forcing any of you to watch the show, either last night or at any other time. If you don’t like the guy, so be it, don’t watch. Just let those of us who have enjoyed Jay for all of these years (who are the Majority) enjoy our memories of the show, the rest of you can just go in the corner and sulk all you want.

      Comment by MaryLou – February 7, 2014 04:27 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • Jay will be missed by most. Good down to earth comedian
        Never x rated
        I wish him health and success in his next journey ! I thank him for putting e tosleep each nite

        Comment by donna hooter – February 7, 2014 09:57 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • The best part… the credits.

    Comment by David4 – February 7, 2014 11:21 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • good riddance.

    Comment by sam – February 7, 2014 12:02 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Now what will you whine about? Conan sucked so Jay got the show back. Are you blaming Jane Lynch for taking over Michael J. Fox’s spot on Thursday nights?

    Comment by Lori Chambers – February 7, 2014 12:59 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Yeah, no one has ever been able to give one reason why Jay is a “monster” or treated Conan badly. What did Conan expect when he told NBC in 2004, “Give me Jay’s job or I walk”? He and NBC worked out a deal firing Jay, then NBC went to Jay and told him he was out in five years.

    By contrast, Fallon called Jay and told him he wasn’t gunning for his job and that he was happy at 12:30. This time, when NBC ASKED him if he’d step down instead of telling him after the Conan deal, he said yes.

    Conan’s true colors shone brightly last night. Arsenio and Letterman congratulated Jay on his tenure. Kimmel, who pretaped, tweeted out a congratulations. Conan? He did an anti-Jay joke. Made him look like a total douchebag.

    Comment by RCR – February 7, 2014 01:35 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Too true and even Kimmels tweet was in Al Rokers opinion disingenuous and I have to agree with him. Jay doesn’t own NBC. He was given an opportunity to give his team their jobs back when NBC asked him back and he took it and he took all the mud slinging on the chin. I’m sorry but rather than keep all his team in jobs Conan was willing to walk away and put them out of work. Plus if you look at the ratings Jay continued to dominate the ratings for the majority of his tenor so as unpalatable as it may have been NBC eventually made the right decision in putting Jay back. I always found Jays humor and interviews funnier than the rest aside from Craig Ferguson. Best of luck to Jimmy but I’m sure with Lorne Michaels by his side he will navigate the Tonight Show to further success. Goodbye Jay thanks for all the memories!!!

      Comment by Sparky – February 7, 2014 02:09 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
      • I thought Jay did a great job considering the act he had to follow. I would like to hear from those who despised him as who THEY thought would have done a better job. Conan is where he belongs… in cyber cable. I was born on the same day as Jay and I’m a car guy with oil running through my veins as well. I would treasure meeting him someday. Jay is a stand up guy…that’s showbiz!

        Comment by Rob – February 7, 2014 07:13 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Most glaring misstep: Oprah.

    Comment by OWS – February 7, 2014 01:58 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • How much will Jay get on unemployment??????? Just kidding, I wish him all the best!

    Comment by Randy – February 7, 2014 08:06 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Letterman rules. Jay is annoying. Good to see him gone.

    Comment by Wahooooo – February 8, 2014 09:15 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • fREE speech anyone? Boy what a partisan country. Even our comedians have ‘political’ parties. SAD.

      Comment by Teopa Sano-Reve – February 9, 2014 03:33 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Why was kim kardashian there shes the last person anyone would of expected and singing? She has no talent and cant sing she just has to be in the camera no matter what it makes no sense somones so desperate for attention then shes right in the middle to be sure shes seen now that jay leno is leaving she needs to as well.

    Comment by Me – February 9, 2014 03:32 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Thanks for the memories Jay! Really gonna miss ya baby! You’re a real stand up guy!!
    Love you!

    Comment by Trish – February 26, 2014 09:17 AM PDT  Reply To This Post

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