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Series / The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

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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 p.m. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones (10:35 p.m. Central/Mountain time). Unlike Carson or his predecessor Jack Paar, Leno only once used a guest host, preferring to host the series in person.

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. 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, following a similar format to the Leno incarnation of Tonight.

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, and his 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.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno features examples of:

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  • Berserk Button:
    • For Jay, it's people who dress up animals in silly or stupid outfits or costumes (which happens frequently during his Headlines segments).
    • Jay also hates products that encourage distracted driving (like shelves for laptops that can be installed in a car). Justified since distracted driving is just as dangerous and deadly as drunk driving.
    • Another minor one for Jay is when people mistakenly say that Benjamin Franklin was the first (or at least one) president of the United States (during both Headlines and Jaywalking segments).
  • Bookends: Billy Crystal was Jay's first guest and his final one in the Grand Finale.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: One of the Headlines involved a person selling "cabbits": Rabbits and cats mixed. Leno found this quite humorous, as he interpreted it as an animal that doesn't exist in real life instead of what the author likely intended, rabbits and cats sold together.
    Jay: What, does it sleep for 23 hours and mate for an hour?!
  • Captain Obvious: One Headlines asked the question: What constitutes a "millionaire"? Answer: Someone who has $1 million.
    Jay: Of course, the next question: "What's a billionaire?"
  • Catchphrase: During "Headlines": "Kev, what do I love?" "Stupid criminals." Alternatively: "Kev, what do I hate?" "Dressing up animals."
    • Another one: "How ____ (fat/lazy/stupid) are we getting in this country, when [insert punchline]?"
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: One recurring segment involves showing products of hypothetical mergers between companies to make humorous product names.
  • Cool Car: Leno owns a warehouse full of them, and they turn up on the show occasionally.
  • Covered in Kisses: Heidi Klum does this to Jay on her 24th and final appearance on the show as a farewell to him as he was leaving The Tonight Show for good after the February 6, 2014 episode and was succeeded by Jimmy Fallon.
  • Darker and Edgier: Jokes about sex were very common, when they were used sparingly on Carson's version. The show even got a TV-14 when the ratings system was introduced. Lampshaded by Leno after an early musical act: "This is not your father's Tonight Show."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: One "Headlines" had a woman with a cat named "Help". She was calling for her cat and naturally someone called the cops, thinking she was in danger. Jay's reaction was priceless:
    Leno: Throw this woman in jail!
  • Don't Explain the Joke: One of the "Headlines" showed an Amish buggy with the caption reminding people not to take the Amish's picture. After a tepid response, Leno quipped, "You see, they took their picture. I should've explained it more clearly."
  • Final Speech: Didn't really have one the first time his Tonight Show ended, but gave one the second time:
    Jay: Okay... boy, this is the hard part. I want to thank you, the audience. You folks have been just... incredibly loyal... [tears up] This is tricky. [laughs] Ah... we wouldn't be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I tell you. [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 who made me sound better than I really do, and I got to work with producers and writers, and just all kinds of talented people who made me look a lot smarter than I really am. I'll tell you something... the first year of this show, I lost my mom. Second year I lost my dad. Then my brother died. And, uh... 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. The last time we left this show, you might remember, we had the 64 children that were born among all our staffers that married. That was a great moment. And when people say to me, 'Hey, why didn't you go to ABC? Why didn't you go to Fox? Why didn't you go...?' I didn't know anybody over there. These are the only people I've ever known. I'm also proud to say this is a union show, and I have never worked... [applause] ...I have never worked with a more professional group of people in my life. They get paid good money, and they do a good job. And when the guys and women on this show would show me the new car they bought, or their house up the street here in Burbank, the one the guys got... I felt I played a bigger role in their success than they played in mine. And that was just a great feeling. And I'm really excited for Jimmy Fallon. You know, it's fun to kinda be the old guy, 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 am 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. And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job, and he said 'I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.' Now... now that I've brought the room down... hey Garth, you got anything to liven this party up? Give it a shot! Garth Brooks!
  • Grammar Nazi: A big part of Jay's "Headlines" segment involves pointing out humorous spelling and grammar mistakes in newspaper articles.
  • Guest Host: One major difference between Leno's Tonight Show and Carson's was that Leno rarely had guest hosts; he preferred to host nearly every show himself. One exception was when Katie Couric and Leno swapped hosting duties for a day.
  • Juxtaposition Gag: Many clippings sent to the "Headlines" segment involve amusing accidental juxtapositions. It can be two ads with incompatible content placed next to each other, or two ads with pictures placed together to create improbable anatomy. Other times, the headline of one article is next to a picture from a different news story altogether, with unfortunate implications. (For example, a story of murder victims' bodies being recovered from a yard was placed next to a photo of then-President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy with shovels, as they cheerfully broke ground on his presidential library.) Parodied on The Simpsons, where Marge cuts out this article to send in: "Ketchup Truck Crashes into Hot Dog Stand - 30 Dead."

  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Exaggerated in the "Iron Jay" skits.
  • Leitmotif: Whenever Don Rickles is a guest, the band plays "La Virgen de la Macarena".
  • Leno Device: Trope Namer.
  • Lighter and Softer: Referenced when Jay interviewed Pamela Anderson about her film Blonde and Blonder:
    Jay: This is your first PG-13 movie, isn't it?
    Pamela: [laughs] Yeah, good one.
  • Long List: One of the Headlines involved a school that served nothing but spam. He showed the lunch calendar and read all the entries:
    Jay: Start with me on Monday: Barbeque spam. Tuesday: Nachos w/spam. Wednesday: Sloppy spam. Thursday: Country style spam. Friday: Grilled spam. Go down. Spam-a-cube. Spam hoagie. Baked spam. Spam nuggets. Spam n noodles. Go down to the next week! Spam pie! Spam burger! Vegetable spam soup! Spam steak! Not spam and cheese! Spam chops! It's unbelievable!
  • Loophole Abuse: In 2005, Leno was called to testify for the defense in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial, as he was familiar with the accuser and his family. This didn't keep him from his regular gig, but he was legally unable to joke about anything related to it during his nightly monologues. The solution was to have other comedians (Roseanne Barr, Drew Carey, etc.) take over for a chunk of said monologues and tell all the Michael Jackson jokes they pleased.
  • Malaproper: "Headlines" is primarily about real-life instances of this
  • Once an Episode: Starting around 2007, Leno would use part of his monologue to tell "The economy is bad!" jokes, one after another. When he would finish telling a joke, the band would play a brief snippet of "Hooray For Hollywood".
  • Persona Non Grata: Bobcat Goldthwait was banned from the show after setting the guest couch on fire during his appearance.
  • Pet Dress-Up: Jay Leno expressed a particular dislike for this trope, often employing the phrase, "your dog is not going to wear that!" This usually came up during the "Headlines" segment, when he found an advertisement for a particularly ridiculous animal costume.
  • Potty Emergency: When Leno had the cast of Superbad on, Jonah Hill told a story about how he was arrested for urinating in an alley. He defended his actions by saying that he was stuck in traffic and was nowhere near a restroom. He also got annoyed by the tabloids, who made up that he was urinating and defecating.
  • Product Placement: Jay and Kevin once did a sketch parodying the overabundance of product placement on TV. The sketch was ostensibly a cop show, but they crammed in as many slogans as possible into the dialogue (Kevin even singing GE's jingle for no reason) while wearing clothing festooned with logos.
  • "Psycho" Strings: A common music cue during "Headlines" when a vicious dog or a person with a creepy face is shown.
  • Pun: During one "Headlines":
    Leno: You know how Canada got its name, by the way?
    Kevin: How's that?
    Leno: It went C, eh, N, eh, D... it's an old joke.
  • The Rival: David Letterman.
    "He's only saying that because I'm here."

  • Song Parody: Billy Crystal sang a "send off" medley to Leno during the last week of the original Tonight Show run, which included parodies of such songs as "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" and "Movin' On Up". He also sang a parody (along with surprise guests) for Leno's final show on 2/6/14. This one parodied just one song: "So Long, Farewell".
  • Squick: Invoked. One Headline involved using cremated ashes being used to paint portraits for a widower. The audience groaned more than they laughed, which led to this:
    Jay: Isn't that horrible?
    Kevin: ...Yes.
    Jay: Too bad it's not FUNNY. [audience laughs]
  • The Television Talks Back: The gimmick of the recurring segment "Pumpcast News", where Timothy Stack played a news anchor on gas pump TV screens. He'd start a new story normally but then comment on the person getting gas. They'd be confused at first until they realized it was a bit for the show.
  • Title Theme Drop: Before one "Jaywalking" with the subject of science questions, the theme song to Weird Science briefly played.
  • Too Much Information: One of the Headlines involved putting plastic molds on your face. When the image in the clipping looked too much like Uncanny Valley to Leno, he snarked, "It's like having sex with a cyborg!"
    Kevin: ...You've had sex with a cyborg, Jay??
    Jay: [straightens tie] In my single days.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The primetime failure of The Jay Leno Show was responsible for the fiasco by bringing down the ratings for the local 11:00 PM newscasts and Conan's Tonight.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Jay Leno and Terry Bradshaw.
  • Vox Pops: "Jaywalking".