The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Also known as The Tonight Show (franchise brand)
Presented by Jay Leno
Starring Branford Marsalis (1992–95)
Kevin Eubanks (1995–2010)
Rickey Minor (2010–14)
Narrated by Edd Hall (1992–2004)
John Melendez (2004–09)
Wally Wingert (2010–14)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 22[1]
No. of episodes 4,610[2] (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Debbie Vickers, Jay Leno
Location(s) NBC Studios Burbank
Burbank, California
Running time 62 minutes
Production company(s) Big Dog Productions
NBC Productions (1992–96)
NBC Studios (1996–2004)
NBC Universal Television Studio (2004–07)
Universal Media Studios
Universal Television (2011–14)
Original network NBC
Picture format 480i (4:3 SDTV) (1992–99)
1080i (16:9 HDTV) (April 26, 1999[3]–February 6, 2014)
Original release First incarnation:
May 25, 1992 (1992-05-25) – May 29, 2009 (2009-05-29)
Second incarnation:
March 1, 2010 (2010-03-01) – February 6, 2014 (2014-02-06)
Preceded by First incarnation:
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Second incarnation:
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
Followed by First incarnation:
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
Second incarnation:
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Related shows The Jay Leno Show
External links

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an American late-night talk show hosted by Jay Leno that first aired from May 25, 1992 to May 29, 2009, and resumed production on March 1, 2010 until its ending on February 6, 2014.

The fourth incarnation of the Tonight Show franchise debuted on May 25, 1992, three days after Johnny Carson's retirement as host of the program. The program originated from NBC Studios in Burbank, California, and was broadcast Monday through Friday at 11:35 PM in the Eastern and Pacific time zones (10:35 PM Central/Mountain time). Unlike Carson or his predecessor Jack Paar, Leno only once used a guest host, preferring to host the series by himself.

The series, which followed the same basic format as that of its predecessors (an opening monologue followed by comedy routines, interviews and performances), ran until May 29, 2009, after which Leno was succeeded by Conan O'Brien.[4] NBC signed Leno to a new deal for a nightly talk show in the 10:00 pm ET timeslot. The primetime series, titled The Jay Leno Show, debuted on September 14, 2009,[5] following a similar format to the Leno incarnation of Tonight.[6][7][8]

Neither O'Brien's version of the program, which premiered June 1, 2009, nor The Jay Leno Show generated the ratings NBC had expected. The network decided to move a condensed 30-minute version of Leno's show to O'Brien's time slot, and O'Brien's Tonight Show a half-hour later. This decision met with opposition from O'Brien, whose stint on The Tonight Show ended January 22, 2010, after which he began his own talk show on TBS. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno then began its second incarnation, the sixth of the franchise, on March 1, 2010. Leno left The Tonight Show for good on February 6, 2014 and on February 17, was succeeded by Late Night host Jimmy Fallon, at which time the series returned to New York for the first time since 1972.


Succession from Carson

Jay Leno in 1993
Intertitle used from 2002 until the conclusion of Leno's first incarnation

Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show on May 22, 1992, and was replaced by Jay Leno. David Letterman wanted to move into the earlier time slot from his late night spot after The Tonight Show, and he was also considered by many as the natural successor (despite Leno having been Carson's permanent guest host for several years). Carson always favored Letterman; notably Carson, who had been interviewed by Letterman, made two appearances on Letterman's rival CBS show, made no mention of Leno during his final shows and regularly sent Letterman monologue jokes in his final years.[9] With his heart set on the earlier time slot, Letterman left NBC and joined CBS. Late Show with David Letterman, airing in the same slot, competed against The Tonight Show for the remainder of Leno's run. Conan O'Brien slid into the late night time slot vacated by Letterman.

First end of Leno on Tonight

On September 27, 2004, the 50th anniversary of The Tonight Show's debut, NBC announced Leno would be succeeded by O'Brien, in 2009. Leno explained he did not want to see a repeat of the hard feelings and controversy that occurred when he was given the show over Letterman following Carson's retirement.[10][11]

It was announced on July 21, 2008 that Leno would host his final episode of The Tonight Show on Friday, May 29, 2009 with O'Brien and James Taylor as his guests.[12] O'Brien took over hosting duties commencing the following Monday, on June 1, 2009.

On December 9, 2008, it was announced Leno would be hosting a new nightly show in September 2009, which aired at 10 pm EST, during the network's prime time period. The Jay Leno Show ended after a short run on February 9, 2010.[6]

Second incarnation

On January 7, 2010, multiple media outlets reported that effective March 1, 2010, The Jay Leno Show would move from the 10 pm (Eastern/Pacific Time) weeknight time slot to 11:35 pm and O'Brien's The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien would move from 11:35 pm to 12:05 am.[13][14][15] On January 12, 2010, O'Brien publicly announced in an open letter that he intended to leave NBC if they moved The Tonight Show to 12:05 am ET/PT to accommodate moving The Jay Leno Show to 11:35 pm Eastern/10:35 pm Central, due to poor ratings.[16] After several days of negotiations, O'Brien reached a settlement with NBC that allowed him to leave NBC and The Tonight Show on January 22, 2010.[17]

On January 21, 2010, NBC announced Leno would return to The Tonight Show. Jay Leno began his second tenure on March 1, 2010, after the 2010 Winter Olympics.[18] The show moved to Stage 11 in Burbank,[19] the former home of The Jay Leno Show, with a similar set and theme song of The Jay Leno Show. Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks announced on April 12 he would be leaving The Tonight Show on May 28 after 18 years with Leno.[20] Eubanks' replacement is former American Idol musical director Rickey Minor.[21] Minor composed a new main theme when he took over.

On July 1, 2010, Variety reported that only six months into its second life, Leno's Tonight Show posted its lowest ratings since 1992.[22] By September 2010, Leno's ratings in the adults 18-49 demographic had fallen below those of O'Brien when he had hosted The Tonight Show.[23] NBC ratings specialist Tom Bierbaum commented that due to the host being out of late night television for a period of time and the subsequent 2010 Tonight Show conflict, Leno's ratings fall was "not a surprise at all".[24] In October 2010, David Letterman beat Leno's program in the ratings, for the first time since Leno returned to hosting The Tonight Show.[25][26] By May 2011, Leno's Tonight Show regained the lead and has held it since then. However, by August 2012, The Los Angeles Times was reporting that The Tonight Show was in serious trouble for a number of reasons, most notably that NBC has been losing money. While Leno offered to take a pay cut, at least 24 members of his staff were laid off.[27] By March 2013, there were rumors that NBC would have Jimmy Fallon, who has been hosting Late Night since 2009 when he succeeded O'Brien, become the next host of The Tonight Show when Leno's current contract ends in 2014 and NBC would move the show back to New York for the first time in over 40 years.[28] On May 13, 2013, during its fall "upfronts" presentation, NBC confirmed Fallon would take over as host of the Tonight Show beginning on February 17, 2014; Seth Meyers, in turn, would leave Saturday Night Live (where he was the anchor of Weekend Update) and take over Fallon's time slot.[29]

Leno's final Tonight Show aired on February 6, 2014. Per the terms on his deal with NBC, his staff was paid through September 2014. Leno wrapped up the night before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which began on February 7. Fallon took over the Tonight Show on February 17.[30]

Leno himself would later appear on Jimmy Fallon's version of Tonight, such as a June 15, 2016 appearance in which Leno not only appeared as a guest, he delivered part of that night's monologue, commenting on the 2016 American election campaign.[31]


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 was shot in 16:9 aspect ratio.


During the last year with Leno as host, The Tonight Show cost about $1.7 million a week to produce.[32] With 45 weeks of annual production, that amounted to about $76.5 million, excluding the salaries for Leno and the show's "top producers."[32]

In that same period, the show had been generating an estimated $30–$40 million a year in profit, down from the $150 million a year the franchise once made."[32]


The show follows an established six-piece format. After the announcer announces the opening credits for the show, the first segment is a long, ten-minute monologue by Leno, with quick one-liners about current events and brief comedy sketches occasionally mixed in. The second segment is a full comedy sketch, often a mini-documentary by a "Tonight Show correspondent" (e.g., Ross the Intern or Mikey Day), 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 which immediately follows The Tonight Show. As the closing credits roll on-screen, the closing theme, composed by bandleader Rickey Minor plays the show off the air. Minor composed a new opening and closing theme when he began his reign as bandleader on June 7, 2010.


Branford Marsalis was the original bandleader of the show from 1992 to 1995, leaving the show after feeling displeased with his role on the show, what he called being an "ass-kisser".[33] Kevin Eubanks, who was the guitarist in Marsalis' band, moved up to bandleader and remained with The Tonight Show and The Jay Leno Show until 2010, leaving the show for unclear "personal" reasons.[34] Rickey Minor, former American Idol music director, replaced Eubanks.


Edd Hall served as announcer on The Tonight Show from 1992 until 2004. Hall occasionally appeared in skits during the opening monologue. These skits often involved slapstick injury to Hall (by using a stunt double, dummy, or film clip), such as vehicles running him over in the studio parking lot. Unlike his predecessors on Tonight (i.e. McMahon with Carson, Hugh Downs with Jack Paar), Hall did not serve as a sidekick for Leno during his tenure on Leno's incarnation of The Tonight Show.

Hall was controversially replaced in 2004 by The Howard Stern Show staff member John Melendez in what many perceived as a thinly veiled attempt to attract a younger demographic and nonsensical considering his "stuttering" moniker. The hiring of Melendez, which was carried out by Leno without Stern's knowledge, prompted a rift between Stern and Leno. Stern tiraded on his show for weeks on end, touting how Leno was "ripping him off", citing previously "lifted" material from his show such as "Jaywalking" ripping off Stern's "homeless game"; for example, stating "To an 18- to 25-year-old male, Jay Leno is gay. He might as well put a dress on."[35] Since the move to The Jay Leno Show, Melendez was replaced as announcer, but remains on the writing staff.[36] Wally Wingert would be the only off-camera announcer for Leno's second Tonight tenure, carrying over his duties from The Jay Leno Show.

Recurring segments

Notable episodes


Critical reviews for the show were mixed, with a Metacritic score of 49 out of 100, based on 9 reviews.[54] In a negative review, Robert Bianco of USA Today wrote; "Monday's opening monologue, supposedly Leno's strong suit, was tired, lame and unfunny. In other words, typical of the real Leno, rather than the Leno of public-relations imagination."[55]

The show was nominated for an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series category ten times between 1993 and 2005. It won the award in 1995.[56]


The 10th Anniversary special, broadcast on April 30, 2002, drew in 11.888 million viewers.[57]

On September 22, 2006, 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 Late Show with David Letterman, 3.4 million for Nightline and 1.6 million for Jimmy Kimmel Live!. 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, where Leno famously asked Grant, "What the hell were you thinking?"[58] The final telecast of the first incarnation 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.[59]

For at least six weeks following his return to The Tonight Show, Leno's program beat Letterman in the overall ratings each night, though with a reduced lead in comparison to his first tenure. By mid-2010, The Tonight Show was receiving its lowest ratings since 1992, an average of 4 million total viewers, though he remained ahead of Letterman, who experienced a coinciding decline in ratings.[60] In September 2010, The Tonight Show posted its lowest numbers on record,[61] with Leno averaging 3.8 million viewers. This was a 12% increase in total viewers over O'Brien at the same time the previous year, but still 23% below O'Brien in the coveted 18–49 demographic. For the first time in almost 15 years, the show slipped to second place in its time slot being consistently beaten by Nightline.[62] In October 2010, Letterman beat Leno's program in the ratings, for the first time since Leno returned to hosting The Tonight Show.[25][26]

In the May 2011 sweeps period, all of NBCs late night programming had increased viewership. The Tonight Show received a 15% increase in viewership compared with the first 36 weeks of last season. In that process, it outlasted rival late night talk shows Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC, as well as Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. Both of Leno's lead-in, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Last Call with Carson Daly, also received increased viewership.[63] For the season, in the 18–49 demographic, The Tonight Show had 4 million viewers, compared with Late Show, which had 3.5 million, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which had only 1.9 million. Nightline, though, still beat Leno in the May 2011 sweeps, with 4.4 million viewers.[64]

Series High

Weekly Highs

The Tonight Show in other countries


The show was telecast in Australia by The Comedy Channel before being discontinued in July 2010, shortly after Leno's reinstatement as the host of The Tonight Show.[68] The channel had been airing versions by the various presenters under the title Late Night Legends. Currently, The Tonight Show is one of the only late-night television shows that cannot be viewed on Australian television. The only shows available are Late Show with David Letterman on Network Ten, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on The Comedy Channel, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Eleven and Conan on GEM.


From 1991 to 2000 the cable channel Superstation showed both The Tonight Show and Late Show in daily bases, one week after airing in the USA. From 2011 the show is broadcast on Record News with Brazilian Portuguese subtitles at midnight (local time), two days after airing in USA.


Canadian viewers watched the show on CTV Two and NBC.


For many years, The Tonight Show episodes from the week ran back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC Asia, available to Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – but since October 2011, they have been replaced by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

CNBC Europe

CNBC Europe confirmed they would show The Tonight Show when Conan O'Brien took over from Jay Leno in June 2009. After Leno returned, they have been showing The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. From Monday April 19, 2010 until the show's conclusion under Leno, CNBC Europe aired the show on weeknights from 12.00 am CET in a one-hour format, with double bill re-runs on Saturdays/Sundays from 9.00pm-9.45 pm & 9.45pm-10.30 pm CET. The show aired on a one-day delay from original transmission in the USA.


In Finland, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was broadcast by MTV3 MAX from Monday to Friday with a three-night delay.


The show was originally broadcast on CNBC. Starting in 2006 it was telecast on Zee Café at local time 10:00 pm with a one night delay. It was later shifted to Zee Trends in 2011, which was subsequently discontinued after a short run. Now The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is telecast on Comedy Central at 11:00 pm every weekdays.


In Israel the show was aired during the 1990s on NBC Europe, which was included in Israeli cable (later called the "Hot" company), though this channel was pulled from cable in Israel towards the end of the 1990s. Soon after, the show began airing on the Israeli popular cable channel Hot 3 (then simply called "Channel 3") until 1999. Since 2000, the show is broadcast in the Israeli satellite company yes (which launched in that year) in various channels, the current being yes stars comedy.


In Italy (with Italian subtitles) from 2003 to 2007 when RaiSat Extra cancelled the program.[69]


In the Philippines, channel ETC broadcast The Tonight Show from 2004 until 2007, when the show was turned over to sister channel JackTV and Talk TV.


In Portugal, the show was first shown on SIC Comedia until the channel was off the air by the end of 2006. The show was switched to SIC Mulher until Leno moved to prime-time. Sic Radical used to broadcast The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien following the demand from their target audience to O'Brien's humor, after Jimmy Fallon took over Late Night. The contract that both NBC and SIC had was not expired by the time The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien got cancelled, so the network received the rights to exhibit The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.


In Sweden, Kanal 5 started airing The Tonight Show every night Monday to Friday with a one-week delay in 2000. 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.[70]


The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was broadcast by CNBC-e and e2 on weekdays at 00:00 with a one-night delay.


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