Jay Leno announced on Thursday (May 14) that he’ll end his 16th and final season as host of “The Tonight Show” with a passing of the torch.
In a conference call with reporters, Leno revealed that his last guest on “The Tonight Show” will be Conan O’Brien, his successor in the high-profile late-night gig.
Leno and O’Brien will be joined by musical guest James Taylor on the Friday, May 29 episode.
While O’Brien was a logical pick for Leno’s last 11:35 episode before transitioning to a daily 10 p.m. show in the fall, but why was Sweet Baby James the musical guest of choice?
“When I left Boston in the early ’70s, James Taylor was playing on the radio and I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna go to Hollywood and see what happens.’ And last year, I asked James Taylor, we had this discussion, I said, ‘Hey, for the last show? It’d be great… You know, you were the last thing I heard when I left town and it would be great…’ Because he’s a Boston guy and he said, ‘Oh, I’d love to do that.’ So we got James Taylor,” Leno tells reporters.
Other guests set for Leno’s last week on “The Tonight Show” include Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal and Wanda Sykes, plus musical appearances by Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam, Sarah McLachlan and Prince.
Leno made it clear that he and O’Brien are chummy and that the last episode won’t be about the old veteran lecturing his whippersnapper replacement.
“He and I often commiserate on bad guests and good guests and have a few laughs over that. I don’t think he needs any help from me. I mean, if he asked me any advice, would I give it? Sure. I like the guy. We’re friends,” Leno says. “That’s why we decided to do this, because it’s a peaceful transition. Unlike the Miss California USA Pageant, this is a peaceful transition of power. There’s no bloodshed here.”
Of O’Brien, Leno observes, “I really do like the guy. He’s a lot of fun and he’s smart. The key to Conan is that he’s always had material. The key when doing this is having the product, not just the personality. When Conan went on, originally, and ‘Oh, NBC didn’t know if they were gonna keep him,’ he was a writer. He wasn’t a performer by trade. He learned to be a performer. If there was any clumsiness or awkwardness at the beginning, it was always backed up by strong jokes, well-written bits and good material and then he learned to be a good performer.”
Few “Tonight Show” fans will ever forget Johnny Carson’s last night at the desk, particularly Bette Midler’s appearance. So does Leno know how he wants to leave things?
“I have something really unusual and different planned, something really out of left field that we’re gonna end on,” Leno says. “It’s something really personal and really unusual. Well, it seems unusual. It’s just really different and it has to do with our show and our staff and I think it’ll make people smile.”
The last night of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” will be Friday, May 29 on NBC.
“The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” will premiere on June 1.
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