Jay Leno Says Goodbye to ‘The Tonight Show’: What’s Next?

Jay Leno

Jay Leno has had a bumpy past decade with NBC. Now, he’s leaving for good, to be replaced by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. First, he left the show for a better time slot, allowing Conan O’Brien to take over — but when his new show did poorly, he ousted Conan, to the displeasure of fans, and returned to his old show while Conan moved over to TBS. Now, Leno is being given $15 million to leave The Tonight Show ahead of when his original contract would have run out  in September — according to the New York Daily News. 

He notes that he is leaving willingly this time around because he was more politely conferred with on his removal now than in the past. “Congratulations, Jimmy. I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy. If you need me, I’ll be at the garage,” said Leno, a car lover, Wednesday, according to the New York Daily News.

Leno said that in terms of how he wants to leave the show, this is the right time for it. “We’ve been No. 1, and we’re leaving No. 1, and I feel good about that,” he said, according to Trib Live. “People say, ‘You could have gotten another couple of years,’ but I don’t know, then it becomes diminishing returns. This feels right this time,” he said, noting that he likes who will be replacing him as well, and that he and Jimmy Fallon used to send each other pizzas.

“There’s a genuine generation gap — I could be his dad. But Johnny was 36 when he took over, and Jimmy’s still in his 30s. That’s a huge shift, and that’s the shift that should be going on. Go all the way back, then bring it all the way forward,” said Leno. He may be leaving, but he’s certainly not looking to retire, at least not based on his densely packed stand-up tour plans, according to Trib Live.

Fallon, for his part, is eager to take on the job. He comes in the wake of six hosts who’ve done the show over the years, starting out with Steve Allen, then Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and finally Jay Leno again. “I wish that Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were still around just to see what we’re going to do with the show because when they invented this show, it was all about being fun and silly and goofy,” said Fallon, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Steve Allen was the first guy to sit in a plate of ice cream and pretend he’s banana split and get chocolate syrup all over him and roll around, because that’s what it should be. Everyone works to hard, and we’re the first thing after your local news. You watch us, and you get a good laugh, and you go to bed with a smile on your face. And that’s our job,” said Fallon.

Fallon said that the easy switch between himself and Jay Leno was a result of a conversation after Conan O’Brien left and Leno returned. Fallon called him to let him know that he wouldn’t be aiming to steal his job. “When you eventually decide to step down, let’s do it the right way,” he said. “It just felt different from then on. We talk to each other every few weeks. [Last year] he called me and said, ‘I think this is gonna be the year, and I’d love for you to be the next guy,’” said Fallon, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Unsurprisingly, Fallon has appeared in a number of skits and pieces centering on his eventual move to The Tonight Show, and meanwhile, Leno interviewed Billy Crystal as his last guest, who appeared long ago on the show as his first. As for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, it will soon be replaced with Late Night With Seth Meyers, with Seth Meyers from SNL.

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