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Jay Leno’s Last ‘Tonight’

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It has been a very stressful year for Jay Leno. His contract negotiations were harder to follow than an episode of Lost. NBC jerked around the Collision Course star so many times I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still suffering from whiplash.  First there was news that he was staying. Then stories surfaced that he was fired and possibly changing networks. It all came to a close when NBC had the idea to throw out scripted programming and schedule him an hour earlier (it’s cheaper to produce a show like his than, say, a special effects-laden drama like Heroes).

Last night Leno finally bid adieu to The Tonight Show after 17 years as host, but he’ll be back with his new program in September. The fall schedule will be as follows: Leno, then Conan O’Brien, then Jimmy Fallon, and then Carson Daly (I had forgotten that he was even still on the air). Viewers may begin to suffer from late night talk show fatigue. How many schmaltzy one-liners delivered by white guys in suits can viewers handle in one sitting? We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.

Leno’s finale aired to huge ratings, but it wasn’t even that much of a spectacle. There was no Bette Midler serenade nor were there any tears. Leno basically ran the show like it was any other; with efficiency, blandess and random sprinkles of actual comedy. I’m really going to miss his kiss-ass, non-confrontational interviewing style and his plethora of tired gags…especially Jaywalking.

After interviewing O’Brien, who was his very last guest, Leno brought out a gang of kids who he called “his legacy”. They were all born during his tenure as host and have close ties with the show:

When these kids grow up and they go, ‘Hey, mom and dad, where did you guys meet?’, they’re going to say they met on the stage of The Tonight Show.

And with this economy, they’re also going to be asking them how they can get a job working for Leno.

The show ended with a simple sign off as he waved goodbye. It wasn’t even half as emotional as Johnny Carson‘s farewell, but that’s okay. Leno never aimed to top Carson. He was just trying to make Kevin Eubanks chuckle every night.  And for that, he was a master.

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