Leno’s Last ‘Tonight’ Draws 14.6 Million Viewers

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NBC says Jay Leno’s farewell “Tonight Show” drew the late-night program’s biggest audience in more than 15 years.

A total of 14.6 million viewers tuned in Thursday to see Leno wrap up his 22 years as host of “Tonight,” according to Nielsen company figures released by NBC. The audience was the biggest since May 14, 1998, when Jerry Seinfeld appeared on “Tonight” to mark the end of his sitcom. That drew nearly 15 million viewers.

Leno’s first goodbye to “Tonight,” in 2009, had 11.9 million viewers.

“Tonight” had been averaging less than 4 million nightly viewers in the past year.

Leno shared that he’d lost his mother the first year he became host, his dad the second and then his brother. Leno said the staff and crew became his family. He added that he’s the “luckiest guy in the world.”
The show began with Leno taking a poke at the network. He says he doesn’t like goodbyes, but NBC does.”
Leno is being replaced by Jimmy Fallon. Leno gave a final shoutout to his wife of more than 30 years, Mavis. He said, “I’m coming home, honey!”

Plenty of stars wanted to say goodbye to Jay Leno last night, as he hosted his final “Tonight Show.”
Billy Crystal was the guest, as he was on Leno’s first show. Crystal also arranged a “Sound of Music” parody, with Jim Parsons, Sheryl Crow, Kim Kardashian, Oprah Winfrey, Chris Paul and Carol Burnett. Jack Black sang,”So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye. If Fallon tanks, you’ll be back here next year.”
There were taped messages from Matt Damon, Bill Maher and President Barack Obama. Obama notes he was the butt of many of Leno’s jokes. Obama says he’s making Leno the U.S. ambassador to Antarctica. The president adds, “Hope you have a warm coat, funnyman.”

Jimmy Fallon takes over the “Tonight” show on February 17, which is a dream for a guy who’s incorporated many of Johnny Carson’s mannerisms into his act. Fallon says his Tonight show will be just like Late Night, which means he’ll still be doing impressions and song parodies and buddies like Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake will pop in every once in a while. Andy Samberg and the Muppets saw him off. His first guests in his new job will be Will Smith and U2. Fallon jokes he’s going to miss being on at 12:37 a.m. Fallon did his last “Late Night” show Friday. He notes his “fierce rivals” in his old time-slot have been Craig Ferguson “and a Veggie-Chopper infomercial.” He got a little emotional during his last “Late Night.” Fallon said he wasn’t going to cry, but was “gonna get really close.”

The first four episodes of Fallon’s new show will air at midnight following the Sochi Winter Olympics. Its regular time slot is 11:35 p.m. Eastern.

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Leno’s last message to the audience:
“I want to thank you the audience, you folks have been incredibly loyal. This is tricky. We wouldn’t be on the air without you people. This has been the greatest 22 years of my life (applause). I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars. It’s just been incredible. I got to work with lighting people who made me look better than I really am. I got to work with audio people that made me sound better than I really do. I got to work with producers and writings and a just all kinds of talented people who make me look a lot smarter than I really am. I’ll tell you something, the first year of this show, I lost my mom. The second year, I lost my dad. Then, my brother died and after that, I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family. Consequently, when they went through rough times, I tried to be there for them. And I’m really excited for Jimmy Fallon. You know, it’s fun to be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution. And it really is. It’s been a great institution for 60 years. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it. But it really is time to go, hand it off to the next guy. It really is. In closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson who was the greatest guy to do this job, and he said, ‘I bid you all a heartfelt (chokes up) goodnight.’ Now that I’ve brought the room down, hey, Garth, you got anything to liven this party up?”….

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