Review: Jay Leno Says Goodbye to ‘Tonight Show’ With Grace

Review: Jay Leno Says Goodbye to 'Tonight Show' With Grace

Leno gets his “Tonight Show” exit exactly right

Jay Leno proved Thursday that he does know how to say goodbye after all.

With a show that at once sad, funny, nostalgic and wise, Leno signed off from “The Tonight Show” after 22 years, striking a perfect tone. He fought back tears at one point, noting that he lost his father, mother and brother in the show's early years.

Also read: Jay Leno Jabs NBC in Final ‘Tonight Show’ Monologue: ‘I Don't Like Goodbyes – NBC Does’

“And after that, I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family,” he said. That's why he never left for ABC, CBS or Fox, he said. “I didn't know anybody over there. These are all the people I've ever known.”

“This has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I really am the luckiest guy in the world,” he said.

See photos: From Steve Allen to Jay Leno – All of ‘Tonight Show's’ Hosts and Sidekicks Before Jimmy Fallon

The episode felt like an affectionate roast. Leno, once accused of jealously refusing to yield the show, was plenty generous with airtime. He left it to others to get most of the laughs, though he got plenty of his own too: At one point he said the real shame was that in all his time on the show, O.J. Simpson never found the real killers.

Leno lost a few fans as he tussled with Conan O'Brien for the “Tonight Show.” But it was hard not to feel nostalgic Thursday, and hard not to be sorry to see the Leno era end.The last time Leno stepped down, in 2010, he was just moving to an earlier timeslot. This time, what he does next is a mystery. And it's possible to feel like he's being shuffled off prematurely, given that NBC is replacing him with Jimmy Fallon while he's still at the top of the late-night ratings.

There was no bitterness, however, in Thursday's sendoff. Leno thought of everything — even noting his pride in having a union crew.

Also read: Sandra Bullock Fights Off Tears During Emotional Jay Leno Send Off (Video)

Billy Crystal did a routine that consisted of Leno's greatest hits. Crystal was Leno's first guest when he took over the show from Johnny Carson.A slew of celebrities, including Steve Carell, Kevin Bacon, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Sheen, Matt Damon and Dana Carvey — doing a Leno imitation — gave Leno suggestions on what he should do next.

The best joke in the videotaped tributes came from President Obama, who said he didn't mind all the jokes Leno has told about him over the years — and congratulated him on being named the new ambassador to Antarctica.

Also read: 9 of Jay Leno's Greatest Hits From His ‘Tonight Show’ Run

Bill Maher was a close runner-up. First he recorded a message saying goodbye — and then kept the camera rolling for another message, welcoming him back.

But Leno probably won't be back, this time. If he wants to drop in, he'll be welcome

Fallon gave him an open invitation to return, telling Leno in his taped tribute that if he ever has jokes he wants to tell, “You can always come home and tell them on ‘The Tonight Show.”

Also read: Jay Leno Roasts Jimmy Fallon During Official Passing of ‘Tonight Show’ Torch (Video)

Musical guest Garth Brooks called Leno “the dearest friend to entertainment.”

He also thanked Leno for not playing favorites, whether it came to genres or networks. It was an astute compliment. Leno, to his credit, never generated tussles — except when it came to who would host the “Tonight.”

The wide range of guests who turned up to sing a goodbye song testified to Leno's broad appeal. Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Chris Paul, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Carol Burnett (doing a Tarzan yell) and Oprah Winfrey all sang a verse to Leno.

NBC has said it hopes Leno will stay on with the network in some capacity. And thanks to his graceful goodbye,  viewers will welcome him back, too. Once, some felt that he had worn out his welcome. With Thursday's sendoff, there was a greater sense that we'll miss the guy.

  • A.L. Hern

    “The best joke in the videotaped tributes came from President Obama, who said he didn’t mind all the jokes Leno has told about him over the years — and congratulated him on being named the new ambassador to Anarctica.”

    ANTARCTICA (people all too frequently omit the first “c,” both in the writing and speaking, but I've never encountered anyone who left out the first “t,” Tim…).

    • Everyone

      grammers is good butt youze need too shuts up all ready!

      • Don

        My family and I have enjoyed Jay from day one and always enjoyed every show. The only fault we had was when the network allowed that tall red headed guy to visit for a short time (thank God and NBC for not allowing him to stay very long) and make everyone change channels. Have a good life Jay and thank you for giving America a good laugh when it was needed.

  • Andrew William Zoeller

    u will be missed jay leno!

  • Prusak359

    Good night Jay. Like Johnny…you will be missed!

  • Shirley Patnode

    Best of Luck Jay. You will be missed. You join the elite group of Classiest Hosts. My fellow Bostonion, I thought you were the best!!!!

  • Ken Cheng

    I'll miss Jay. He provided good laughs in both good and bad times. Hope we'll still see him out there somewhere.

  • BeachBum

    Had the privilege of seeing the taping of the show last Friday. He will be missed!

  • KRS

    Jay Leno is the real deal. You never have heard anything bad about Jay in 22 years and he is the epitome of what a work ethic should be in this country. He deserves all of the success he has achieved and I hope he enjoys his next 22 years doing what makes him happy. He has entertained America as numero uno for the last 22 years.
    God Bless him whatever the future may bring

    • demooo

      It was so nice to have him there every night. He became the only reliable and enjoyable presence on tv. The other guys, and shows, are constantly on vacation, and only work partial weeks. Jay Leno loves his work and loves viewers and showed up everyday, while it's clear the others love themselves, their egos, their money, and often their attitude on air is like they are doing the audience a favor showing up. Leno was one of the last shows worth watching. It's good to start getting used to not watching tv because one day I won't be in the age group they want and I won't be a customer of a business that doesn't value my money.

  • Sherry Davis

    I am not watching channel Five late night Jimmy Fallen. When Jay Leno Leaves i will miss
    him. I did not watch him on other channels. and i will stop watching 5 when he takes over.

  • teeskaz

    Can't we bring him back just one more time.

  • shiloh

    Great send off. I loved all of it. It was nice Jimmy Fallon said Jay could come and tell jokes whenever he wants. The only thing that was a dissapointment was Ross Mathues (Ross the Intern) was never seen or heard from during the last month or the final show. Ross is the star he is now because of Jay. One last thing. I thought Conan's swipe at jay last night showed no class and convinced me he didn't deserve to be host of the Tonight Show in the first place. I don't think I'll watch Jimmy Fallon because he is different kind of comedian the jay.

  • Jim Davis

    Late-night is over for me now that Leno is gone! Unlike the haters and critics that have daunted a man and his long time number 1 popularity among all age groups; there are lots of things that cause me to respect and to miss Jay Leno. His political humor has included everyone making it just plain funnier. Jay was the last great at monologue delivery! His Jaywalking, Oakwood Apartments, and Headlines were consistently entertaining. I respect Jay for “giving back” in many ways such as free performances for the unemployed in Detroit. I respect Leno's loyalty to his staff in a taking a pay cut on his last contract to help prevent more layoffs. Jay's first priority when NBC told him about ending his contract 7 months early: was to make sure that his staff got paid for those 7 months. I respect Jay for almost always taking the ‘high road” and refusing to exchange criticism and sometimes hate with the Kimmel's and Conan's of Late-night. A key reason why Leno had an extremely loyal audience; is that Jay has the unique ability to develop a TV friendship with us. I will surely miss that friendship and I believe that Jay will too! Some nights the guests were more to my liking than others; but it really didn't matter that much. I watched The Tonight Show because of Jay Leno!

  • Aaron Wexler

    Good riddance.