Tears and job losses after Leno's departure
Australian comedian Rove McManus has lost his spot on The Tonight Show in the US after Jay Leno hands over the reigns to Jimmy Fallon.PT1M40S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3265h 620 349 February 7, 2014
Rarely, in television, does a goodbye take this long.
But today Jay Leno, America's talk show king for more than two decades, silences his microphone for the last time, at least as host of the country's iconic Tonight Show.
The comedian became tearful and choked up on his final show as he concluded what he called the ‘‘greatest 22 years of my life’’.
'Emotional support' ... Sandra Bullock gets tearful over Jay Leno's retirement from The Tonight Show.
''I am the luckiest guy in the world,'' said an emotional Leno, stepping down for the second and presumably last time as host of the venerable US late-night program. ''This is tricky.''
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, though - a final dig at his employer.
End of an era ... Jimmy Fallon, left, to replace Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Photo: AP
''You're very kind,'' he told the audience. ''I don't like goodbyes. NBC does.''
In cultural terms, the moment is enormous. In American television history true "talk show" titans can be counted on one hand: Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, David Letterman and, of course, Jay Leno.
Jack Paar's departure from the Tonight Show in 1962 was marked with a cue card, which said simply "no more to come". Leno's predecessor Johnny Carson delivered his own eulogy, talking to his audience down the barrel of the camera.
Leno's departure has been marked with curious little fanfare, though the US media are devouring the occasion.
A tearful Sandra Bullock, appearing on Leno's second to last show, seemed to speak for everyone as she teared up and thanked him for his kindness and generosity.
"You were always so welcoming and every single person on your crew was that way consistently, and I just felt special even when I felt very insecure," Bullock told Leno. "And everyone, I think, in this room and in this country, has felt that every day that you've been in their homes."
Leno's departure comes as no surprise. Indeed it is technically his second retirement, after the first - in 2009 - ended disastrously.
Leno's network, NBC, had previously constructed a five-year strategy in which the talk show host would hand the baton to stablemate Conan O'Brien. But Leno's ratings decline, on which that strategy was built, never quite occurred and as the date approached, Leno's ratings were as robust as ever.
NBC choked at the last moment, relented and gave the Tonight Show to O'Brien but then shifted Leno into his own show, The Jay Leno Show, which they scheduled immediately prior to O'Brien on Tonight.
The net result was a public blood-letting rare for a business which prides itself on keeping the worst secrets hidden from scrutiny. Conan stepped down in 2010, and Leno returned to the Tonight Show.
Leno will now be replaced by comedian Jimmy Fallon, a shift which seems as much a generational change as anything else. Fallon, at 39, is a baby compared to 63-year-old Leno.
And this time, the baton change is permanent for Leno. At least that's what they're all saying.
Leno shared today that he’d lost his mother the first year he became Tonight’s host, his dad the second year, and then his brother. ‘‘And after that I was pretty much out of family,’’ he said. ‘‘The folks here (at Tonight) became my family.’’
But he does leave his post secure in its top-ranking position. Borrowing from the Seinfeld method, he is going out on top.
"Jerry is sort of my role model on this, and we've talked about this. He seems to have done it the right way," Leno told US media this week.
"I'd rather leave when I was number one than sneak out the door when you're number three," he said. "At some point it becomes diminishing returns.
"I don't know when the right time to leave is. Is it when you're 71? 68? 84? If NBC did not have a guy like Jimmy in the bullpen waiting, I'd probably be here another year or two."
The Tonight Show is an institution in American culture. It was launched in 1954 and has been in continuous production since.
While an American television landscape without the Tonight Show seems almost inconceivable, Leno noted this week that the landscape is shifting.
"We used to have appointment TV, we don't live in that world anymore," he says.
"The numbers that keep us number one now would have had us fired 20 years ago. The dilemma is, these shows are cheap to do and if they hit, there's money to be made. But there are so many of these shows now that you've diluted the water."
Fallon will be the show's sixth host in six decades, following Steve Allen (1954-1957), Jack Paar (1957-1962), Johnny Carson (1962-1992), Leno (1992-2009, 2010-2014) and Conan O'Brien (2009-2010).
The longest serving of those, and arguably still the most famous, is Johnny Carson who occupied the seat for three decades - half of the show's entire run.
There has been persistent speculation that Leno may surface elsewhere, either hosting his own show, or as a host for special events.
But unlike his last goodbye, Leno is anxious to draw a clear line in the sand, perhaps to help Fallon ease into the gig. The uncertainty which marked his last departure effectively left O'Brien drowning publicly.
"This is really the end," Leno said this week. "When I left in 2009, I was probably going to go to another network or something else. So it feels like it really is the end this time."
The lights on stage 11 at LA's Burbank Studios - the show's home for most of the 4610 episodes which have featured Leno in the big chair - will go dark on Friday afternoon, Sydney time.
James Douglas Muir "Jay" Leno, for his part, has no regrets.
"It's nice that people say they're going to miss me," he says. "You know, if you don't believe the bad stuff, it's not fair to believe the good stuff either. Everybody's replaceable."
- with AP