Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” era ends on high note

Last night, Jay Leno said farewell to The Tonight Show, paving the way for Jimmy Fallon to take over as host of the revered late-night institution on Feb. 17. According to an NBC release, Leno concluded his run by delivering The Tonight Show‘s highest overnight rating since March 2009 (when President Barack Obama made his historic visit to the show).


With the star talent on hand to say goodbye to Leno, it’s probably no surprise that the show did so well, ending on an emotional note every bit as high as its ratings. Along with guests Billy Crystal (also Leno’s first Tonight Show guest back in 1992) and Garth Brooks, Leno’s last night featured appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Carol Burnett, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Kim Kardashian and Chris Paul (pictured above during a farewell song to Jay Leno). Appearing in taped messages were Jimmy Fallon, Bob Costas, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Sheen and President Obama.

The celebrities who appeared in person took part in a fun musical farewell to Leno, led by Crystal to the tune of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. Each star came out in turn, singing his or her own little parodic lyric that, in some cases, poked light fun at Leno (Kardashian expressing relief that Leno won’t be joking about her anymore, Winfrey saying that if Leno was her he would have bought each of his audience members a car). And Burnett even did her famed Tarzan yell for Leno. See the song in the video below:

Leno’s last show averaged a 9.2 rating, 22 share in Nielsen households (Philadelphia market excluded), according to NBC. This more than tripled the show’s season average in metered-market households, which was 2.8/7 heading into this final week.

UPDATE: NBC also reports that Leno’s last show averaged 14.6 million viewers — his largest overall audience in over 15 years, since the night of the Seinfeld finale in May 1998.

The strong performance of Jay Leno’s last Tonight Show also proved to be a good lead-in for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, which airs its final episode tonight. The Feb. 6 episode of Late Night had its highest rating ever in the wake of Leno’s goodbye, with 4.6/15 in metered-market households.



Stacie McChesney/NBC