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The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an Americanmarker late-night talk show hosted by Jay Leno that aired from 1992-2009. It made its debut on May 25, 1992, following Johnny Carson's retirement as host of The Tonight Show. The nightly broadcast at 11:35 p.m. (Eastern) originated from NBC's studios, in Burbank, Californiamarker and ran until May 29, 2009. Its successor program, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien premiered on June 1, 2009.

On April 26, 1999, the show began broadcasting in 1080i HDTV, becoming the first American nightly talk show to be shot in high definition. The show is shot in 16:9 aspect ratio.

Leno's incarnation of The Tonight Show followed the same basic format as that of his predecessors: an opening monologue followed by comedy routines, interviews and performances. Unlike Jack Paar or Johnny Carson, however, Leno only once utilized a guest host, preferring to host the series by himself (see "notable episodes" below).

NBC announced in 2004 that Leno would leave The Tonight Show at the end of May 2009, handing the reins to Conan O'Brien. Leno's last episode aired on May 29, 2009. However, following rumors of Leno being interested in moving elsewhere to launch a competing program, NBC signed Leno to a new deal for a nightly talk show in the 10:00 p.m. ET timeslot. The primetime series, titled The Jay Leno Show, debuted Sept. 14, 2009, following a similar format to the Leno incarnation of Tonight.


The show follows an established six-piece format. The first segment is a monologue by Leno, with quick one-liners about current events and brief comedy sketches occasionally mixed in. Unlike fellow late-night comics David Letterman or Conan O'Brien, Leno—with his background in stand-up comedy—emphasizes the monologue perhaps more than any other segment in the show, usually telling jokes for the first six or ten minutes of the broadcast. The second segment is a full comedy sketch, often a humorous mini-documentary by a "Tonight Show correspondent" (e.g., Ross the Intern or Tom Green), or a trademark of Leno's, like "Headlines."

As the nightly broadcast approaches midnight, the first guest appears. The interview is divided into two segments, then followed by the fifth segment, which is the interview of the second guest. The sixth and final segment is almost always a musical performance. But occasionally, a stand-up comedian will perform instead.

Immediately following the last performance segment, Leno walks on camera to thank the performers, bid farewell to the audience and recommends watching Late Night with the corresponding host (Jimmy Fallon, Conan O'Brien or David Letterman), which immediately followed The Tonight Show. As the closing credits roll on-screen, the gentle strains of The Tonight Show's closing theme music, "Kevin's Country" — composed in 1992 by Tonight Show Band leader Kevin Eubanks — play the show off the air.

Recurring segments

  • "Headlines" (Monday): Humorous print items sent in by viewers. These real-life headlines are usually headlines with typographical errors, or unintentionally inappropriate items. The segment usually starts out with a fake, humorous Headline during the introduction for the segment, such as Arabs Wish Bush "A Happy Shoe Year!". Reflecting Jay's moving of this segment to a 10 PM ET/PT time slot, the lead Headline on the final broadcasting of this segment was 4 Out Of 5 Scientists Say "Headlines" Funnier at 10PM Than 11:30PM.
  • Jaywalking: A pre-taped segment, "Jaywalking" is a play on the host's name and the illegal practice of jaywalking. Leno asks people questions about current news and other topics in public areas around Los Angelesmarker (usually Hollywood Boulevardmarker, Melrose Avenue or Universal Studios). Most responses are outrageously incorrect; for example, one person believed that Abraham Lincoln was the first president, and another could not identify a picture of Hillary Clinton. Sometimes the questions are of the "What color is the White House?" level, such as asking in what country the Panama Canalmarker is located in. Up to 15 people are interviewed in an hour or less for each segment, with about nine interviews used on the air.
    • Howard Stern has said the segment was lifted directly from his radio show.
    • Battle of the Jaywalk All-Stars: Some of the stupidest "Jaywalkers" are brought back onto the show to be asked simple questions to see which one is least dumb. In the latest episode, one contestant correctly answered trojan, when shown a picture of a trojan horse, but followed that with answering magnums, when asked why the trojan was popular.According to Leno, he expected that contestants, after watching themselves on television, would study facts ahead of appearing on Jaywalk All-Stars. (Leno: "Not a problem!")
    • Some of the interviewees prove so popular with viewers that they become regulars on The Tonight Show itself. Such examples are Jaywalk All-Stars Kip and Kim, who have a recurring segment on the show entitled What would Kip and Kim Do?, where people in situations ask them for advice. Their responses are often ridiculous and done to make the audience laugh. Another frequent Jaywalking guest, Angela Ramos, quickly became popular (due to her nasally high-pitched laugh) and joined the show for a time as a correspondent.

  • The Audience Wants to Know: Selected audience members are chosen to ask Leno questions, and in response, Leno shows a video clip relating to the subject.
  • Celebrity Interviews: Leno will conduct an interview with a celebrity or recent major news name. The person in question is an obvious parody designed to utilize humorous responses. This often occurs "via satellite," but the character's portions are done on the musical performance part of the stage. Fred Willard (as "Willard J. Fredericks") and Gilbert Gottfried are the most common actors used for the segment, as well as Steve Bridges impersonating George W. Bush. Another variation consists of "Phony Interviews," an edited segment where Jay asks comedic questions on set, followed by the actual subject's response at a news conference or on a news interview show.
  • Comedic Products: Depending on the season, Leno will bring out comedic spins on gifts, media releases and "inventions that didn't work out." (for example: A Day After Tomorrow home game for the summer months). It also came out in a different iteration, as being supposedly sold through the NBCCC (Nothing But Cheap Crap Channel), with Leno playing the channel's resident host, Bob Johnson.
  • Ask the Fruitcake Lady: Marie Rudisill, an outspoken older woman and aunt of Truman Capote, responded to questions about relationships, sex and family. She was originally on the show to promote her cookbook about fruitcake. This segment was discontinued after Rudisill's death.
  • Videos We Found on YouTube: A prototypical Leno segment where he shows amusing videos supposedly found on YouTube. However, the videos are not viewed on YouTube but video files instead. "Zoo Tube" features similar videos of animals.
  • Howie Mandel: Using a hidden camera, Howie would play practical jokes on average citizens. This bit became much less common after the beginning of Howie's program Deal or No Deal.
  • Ross the Intern: Ross Mathews, an intern for the show, is sent to participate in special events. As part of a running gag, Leno started introducing Ross as his illegitimate son.
  • Pitch To America: Whenever a screenwriters convention is held in the U.S., a Tonight Show camera crew sets up an area where screenwriters can walk up and make a pitch for a movie script or television show that he/she has been working on. More recently, the crew goes to a trade show, where inventors pitch their product, and the audience is asked if it "sold" or "not sold" (similar to the Stuff We Found on eBay segment).
  • Stuff We Found on eBay: Leno brings up some of the oddest stuff that he has supposedly found while searching on eBay, and the studio audience must determine whether the object was sold or not.
  • Pumpcast News: A fake news anchor, played by Timothy Stack, displayed on a TV screen at a gas station harasses and bothers the customers pumping gas.
  • Pumpernickel Bread Special: A segment where Leno invites celebrity chefs, such as Martha Stewart, to share hilarious recipes.
  • Duller Image Catalog: Leno will present outrageous and crude products created by the staff. A play on The Sharper Image Catalog.
  • The Fine Print: At his desk Leno presents regular everyday products but when zoomed in to reveal the fine print there is a message telling what the product's real intentions are (example: a bag of chips that warns if you eat the product you will get fat).
  • Photo Booth: A real free photo booth is set up at Universal Studios Hollywoodmarker, and people inside are bothered and made fun of before getting their picture taken. The booth's voice is provided by comedian Kira Soltanovich.
  • 99 Cent Shopping Spree: Leno shows off real items collected from a local 99 cent store, which have any assembly mistakes (hair combs in a bag labeled sun glasses), poorly translated words on directions or packaging, or if they are just tacky items.
  • Celebrity Jeopardy: A jeopardy game that includes people in costumes portraying famous people in the news. George W. Bush, and Martha Stewart, are commonly portrayed. Gilbert Gottfried, who is always included on the panel, portrays other uncommon characters such as the Easter Bunny or Pontius Pilate, and is characterized by his frequent use of the phrase, "Son of a bitch!" at some point during the segment.
  • Truth in Labeling: Leno displays products whose names have been changed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are now renamed for their most common uses. For example a United States one hundred-dollar bill called "gas money."
  • Dealing with the Public: Leno plays real police or 911 audio/video recordings that are ridiculous, stupid or funny.
  • Sidewalking: A camera and microphone are set up in a public location (e.g., on the street, on a college campus), individuals step up to the microphone and perform whatever they desire.
  • Teenage Wasteland: Teenagers perform a stunt or talent they possess.
  • Does this impress Ed Asner?: Individuals perform stunts or show off a talent in front of Ed Asner. Asner comments on whether or not the act impresses him. Similar to the former Late Show with David Letterman stunt, "Is This Anything?".
  • Midnight Confessions:: Members of the audience tell a story about something in their life about which they are embarrassed. Often, at the end of the confession, a product appropriate for the situation is presented to the person (often by Gilbert Gottfried)
  • Wheel of Consolation: In the final weeks of American Idol the person voted off comes on The Tonight Show and is given a chance to spin the wheel of consolation, which contains three elaborate sounding prizes. The wheel is rigged to stop on a certain item, when the contestant receives a play off of the item won. For example, if the wheel stops on 'Breakfast with Royalty,' the Burger King mascot presents the contestant with a breakfast sandwich.
  • They Walk Among Us:: Leno presents images of celebrities and their supposed look-alikes, who were discreetly taped in Burbank. He says they were products of cloning experiments gone wrong.
  • What's George Bush Doing Today?: Started after George W. Bush left office, shows what Bush (played by Steve Bridges) is doing since leaving political office. It features Bush doing things like playing Dance Dance Revolution, having a lightsaber duel with Dick Cheney, or dancing to "Dragostea din tei" (in a parody of the Internet meme Numa Numa).
  • Tattoo or no tattoo?:: Leno interviews a person followed by the audience guessing whether they have a tattoo.
  • Steve the Judgmental Bastard:: An entertaining riff on "Jaywalking" in which Steve Schirripa predicts how random people on the street will answer questions about themselves based on how they look.
  • Steve Irwin bringing in Snakes and Crocodiles. Discontinued after Steve Irwin's death.
  • Tonight Show phone in. Tapes of celebrity voices are played while Leno talks with them.
  • Beyondo - Leno would work with Kevin Eubanks on trying to summon people from the great beyond. Discontinued.
  • Iron Jay - pumping iron questions with a muscle headed Leno. His body was made to look bigger. Discontinued.
  • Mr. Brain - Leno acting as a brainiac, taking questions from the audience. His head was made to look bigger with mirrors and the camera. Discontinued.
  • Virtual Jay - Computer-generated animation of Leno. According to the skit, when Leno heated up a burrito with the foil still on it in the microwave while at his computer, it caused an electrical shock to come from the microwave to Leno to his computer, thus causing Leno to "travel" through the Internet. It usually involved gags to emphasize some of his recurring jokes at the time (e.g. "Virtual Jay" in a page with the picture of a desert and then realizing that he was in Dan Quayle's webpage during his failed 1996 run for President). Discontinued.
  • The Economy is Bad - During the Monologue, Leno tells a series of one-liners themed around the current state of the economy. He has acknowledged that the cadence is a tribute to Rodney Dangerfield, and a quick playing of Hooray for Hollywood follows each joke.

Notable episodes

  • In September 2000, with California in an energy crisis that forced power outages, Jay Leno did an episode in the dark using only candles and flashlights known as "The Tonight Show Unplugged" in response to California's power crisis.
  • Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, The Tonight Show was off the air for about a week, as were most similar programs. The first post-9/11 episode began with a still image of an American flag and a subdued opening without the usual opening credits. Leno's monologue paid tribute to those who lost their lives and to firefighters, police and rescue workers across the US. Leno had questioned whether a show that regularly poked fun at the government could continue after the attacks, but in his monologue he explained that he saw the show as a respite from the grim news of the world, akin to a cookie or glass of lemonade handed to a firefighter. Senator John McCain and the musical group Crosby, Stills, and Nash were featured guests. For an extended period after the attack, a short clip of a large American flag waving was shown in between the announcement of the musical guest and Leno's introduction during the opening montage.
  • On May 12, 2003, Leno and Katie Couric swapped places as a publicity stunt, with Leno anchoring The Today Show and Couric guest hosting "The Tonight Show." This was the only episode during Leno's tenure to feature a guest host.
  • On August 6, 2003, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on The Tonight Show and confirmed he would be running to replace California Governor Gray Davis in the California recall election. Schwarzenegger won the election on October 7.
  • On January 24, 2005, Leno had an episode that paid tribute to Tonight Show predecessor Johnny Carson, who had died the day before. There were no opening credits, and the monologue simply gave condolence to Carson. There were no segments used, however, Leno played clips from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson before commercials. All the guests were people who had worked with Carson or had been on his show, including Ed McMahon, Drew Carey, Don Rickles, and Bob Newhart.
  • On July 20, 2006, as Colin Farrell was being interviewed by Leno, Farrell's stalker, Dessarae Bradford, evaded security, walked on stage as cameras were rolling, confronted Farrell, and threw her book on Leno's desk. In front of a silent, stunned audience, Farrell escorted her off the stage himself, told the camera crew to stop filming, and handed her over to security. As Bradford was led out of the studio, she shouted "I'll see you in court!" Farrell's response was a smooth, "Darling, you're insane!" Outside the studio, NBC security handed her to Burbankmarker police, who eventually released her. While waiting to begin filming again, a shocked Leno sarcastically called for "a round of applause for NBC security" from the audience. After Farrell apologized to the audience, describing Bradford as, "my first stalker," the show then continued filming and the incident was edited out of the broadcast aired that night. Farrell later requested a restraining order in court against Bradford.
  • On January 2, 2008, The Tonight Show (along with Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Late Night with Conan O'Brien) returned to air without writers, with the WGA still on strike. This was in response to the deal by David Letterman's production company Worldwide Pants with the WGA to allow the Late Show with David Letterman and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to return with writers. Leno's guest that night, Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was criticized for crossing the WGA picket line to appear on the show. Huckabee would go on to win the Iowa caucuses the very next day.
  • On June 13, 2008, Leno delivered the news of Tim Russert's death to his audience during his monologue, and set aside some time in it to remember his old colleague. He then stated that he would continue the show as normal afterwards.


On September 22, 2006, Variety reported that The Tonight Show led in ratings for the 11th consecutive season, with a nightly average of 5.7 million viewers – 31% of the total audience in that time slot – compared to 4.2 million viewers for the Late Show with David Letterman, 3.4 million for Nightline and 1.6 million for Jimmy Kimmel Live. When Leno's show initially directly faced Letterman's, Letterman led in ratings. Two events helped Leno gain and keep the lead: A new set brought Leno closer to the audience, and Hugh Grant kept his July 10, 1995 scheduled appearance despite having been arrested for seeing a prostitute. Leno famously asked Grant "What the hell were you thinking?" During Leno's penultimate week as "The Tonight Show's" host, results of a poll were released, stating that the Hugh Grant interview was voted that top moment of Leno's tenure. President Barack Obama's appearance ranked 2nd and Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement of running for Governor of California was ranked 3rd.

At 11:35 p.m. ET during the fourth quarter 2008, The Tonight Show won the time period over CBS’s the Late Show with David Letterman by a 19% margin in adult 18-49 viewers and 25 percent in total viewers.

The final telecast of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" had the show's highest overnight household rating for a Friday episode in the comedian's 17-year run as host of "Tonight," averaging an 8.8 rating in metered-market households.

Seven highest-rated episodes

  1. Thursday, May 20, 1993. After the Cheers finale: 22.4 million viewers.
  2. Monday, May 25, 1992. Debut: 16.1 million viewers.
  3. Thursday, May 14, 1998. After the Seinfeld finale: 15 million viewers.
  4. Thursday, March 19, 2009. President Barack Obama interview: 14.6 million viewers.
  5. Monday, January 24, 2005. Tribute to (the late) Johnny Carson: 13.4 million viewers.
  6. Thursday, May 6, 2004. After the Friends finale: 12.6 million viewers.
  7. Friday, May 29, 2009. Finale: 11.9 million viewers.


Succession from Carson

Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show on May 22, 1992, and was replaced by Jay Leno amid controversy. David Letterman not only wanted to move into that earlier time slot from his late night spot after The Tonight Show, but was considered by Carson and others as the natural successor (despite Leno having been Carson's permanent guest host for several years). Letterman, having had his heart set on the earlier time slot, left NBC and joined CBS. Late Show with David Letterman, airing in the same slot, has been competing head to head against The Tonight Show ever since. Conan O'Brien slid into the late night time slot vacated by Letterman.

End of Leno on Tonight

On September 27, 2004, the 50th anniversary of The Tonight Show's debut, NBC announced that Jay Leno will be succeeded by Conan O'Brien, in 2009. Leno explained that he did not want to see a repeat of the hard feelings and controversy that occurred when he was given the show over David Letterman following Carson's retirement.

It was announced on July 21, 2008 that Jay Leno would host his final episode of The Tonight Show on Friday, May 29, 2009 with Conan O'Brien and James Taylor as his guests. O'Brien took over hosting duties commencing the following Monday, on June 1, 2009. On December 9, 2008, it was announced that Jay Leno will be hosting a new nightly show in September, 2009, which will air at 10pm EST, during the network's prime time period.

WGA strike

Production of new episodes was suspended due to the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike. Leno, himself a member of the Guild, decided to honor the picket lines, resulting in the show going into repeats, effective November 5. Shortly after the strike started, it was rumored that guest hosts would fill in for Leno during the duration of the strike, beginning November 19, 2007. The show aired reruns from different periods of Leno's tenure as host until January 2, 2008, when after two months the show returned with Leno writing his own lines without using replacement writers.

Tonight Show in other countries

CNBC Europe

The Tonight Show could be seen in Europe on CNBC Europe, Mondays to Fridays at 11pm GMT. It airs on a 1-show delay from the US (except for Sundays and Mondays). Reruns can be seen on weekends at 8pm GMT.

Schedules in the past
  • Starting on December 1, 1993, CNBC Europe (which was then known as NBC Super Channel) used to show the full version of the Tonight Show everyday, but it changed to a condensed weekday version on March 26, 2007, to make room for additional business programming. Late Night with Conan O'Brien was also shown on weekdays, but was relegated to weekends only when the business programming expanded.

2009 changes
  • At the start of 2009, CNBC made some changes to their schedules. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno now aired at 11pm GMT Monday-Friday in cut down 30-minute condensed editions, and at 8pm (two episodes) GMT on weekends in full 45-minute edits. Late Night With Conan O'Brien was no longer shown on CNBC at all. The Tonight Show aired on CNBC on a one-show delay from the US (so the show that airs on NBC in America on Fridays is shown on Mondays on CNBC, etc.)

  • CNBC Europe confirmed they will show The Tonight Show when it will be hosted by Conan O'Brien, who takes over from Jay Leno in June 2009. It is thought that the same schedule times will be kept.

Other channels

In Canadamarker, The Tonight Show was also seen at 11:35 PM ET/PT on NBC. In addition it could be seen on the A in Ontario, British Columbia and the Maritimes; and 12:35 AM MT on Accessmarker in Alberta.

The Tonight Show was broadcast daily in Israelmarker (with Hebrew subtitles) on the Tevel Family Channel and, later, on the yes stars Comedy channel.

The Tonight Show was broadcast in Italymarker (with Italian subtitles) until 2005 when RaiSat Extra cancelled the program.

The Tonight Show was also seen in Indiamarker on Zee Cafe Monday to Friday at 10 PM.

The Philippine cable TV channel Jack TV also aired the show Tuesday to Saturday at 3PM (live telecast) with a late-night re-run at 11PM. Reruns also air from Wednesday to Sunday.

In the Middle East and North Africa, The Tonight Show was seen Saturday to Monday at 9PM KSA on the Orbit Satellite Television and Radio Network's channel Super Comedy.

In Australia, The Tonight Show airs weeknights at 10:30PM on The Comedy Channel episodes were aired within hours of the airing in the US.

In Romaniamarker, The Tonight Show was seen on weeknights, starting 12:25AM on news channel Antena 3.

In Swedenmarker, Kanal 5 started airing The Tonight Show every night Monday to Friday with a one week delay in 2000. The show was also retitled "Jay Leno Show". In 2008, Kanal 5 chose to replace it with Jimmy Kimmel Live, and moved The Tonight Show to their sister channel Kanal 9, with a rerun aired the next day on Kanal 5.

In Icelandmarker, The Tonight Show was seen at 11PM on Skjáreinn Monday to Thursday.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, The Tonight Show was broadcast at midnight on weeknights on CNBC Africa, and in an omnibus during prime time on weekends

The Tonight Show was broadcast a day after its original airing Monday through Friday, with Friday's show airing the following Monday, on AFN Prime to military service members and their families at 10:30pm in their respective time zones.


The Tonight Show also presented a daily digest version of the show's monologue, called Last Night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, broadcast on radio stations nationwide. Originally distributed by Premiere Radio Networks, the radio program moved to Westwood One in 2007.


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