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The Tonight Show‘s home for decades, the Burbank Studios, is still emptying. NBC’s longtime late-night host Jay Leno officially signed off just a few minutes past 5:00 p.m. PT on Thursday afternoon. And his final show, a suitable mixture of one-liners and tears, gave the impression of finality that may not have come through back in 2009.
Leno did not go without slinging a few more barbs at NBC. The host opened his show with several cracks at the network. “I don’t need to be fired three times,” he said. “I get the hint.”
Slings at Leno’s rocky history at NBC, which seems odd given his consistent late-night dominance throughout, also came from his guests — both unexpected and invited.
THR COVER: Jay Leno’s Exit Interview
It wasn’t an all-star crowd packing the seats of the studio, but rather an exclusive mix of friends and family. Wife Mavis was in the audience and, contrary to the promos they taped after the final curtain, she did not join her husband onstage at any point during the broadcast. The men from Leno’s garage and CAA agent Alan Berger were spotted in the audience as well.
Celebrity friends — or, in some cases, just celebrities — that appear onstage included Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Chris Paul, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey. The seven joined Billy Crystal in a snarky musical salute to Leno, and Winfrey got one of the night’s biggest laughs by singing a line of Crystal’s slightly tweaked “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music.
Others who joined in pre-taped segments included Steve Carell, Olivia Wilde, President Obama, Bill Maher, Matt Damon, Miley Cyrus, Martha Stewart, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, Dana Carvey, Charlie Sheen, Tyler Perry, Larry the Cable Guy and Jimmy Fallon.
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It was not all jokes, though. The final 10 minutes of Leno’s last Tonight are quite somber. As with any exit, the host’s appreciation for his audience was eclipsed by his affection for the crew. Leno teared up and choked on more than a few words talking about his staff, and the personal losses — his mother, father and brother — he’s suffered while working with them. He also praised the union.
“People to say to me, ‘Why didn’t you go to ABC? Why didn’t you go to Fox?’ I didn’t know anybody there,” he said. ” These are the only people I’ve ever known.”
Still crying a bit, Leno shared some nice words for Tonight heir Fallon and paid tribute to Johnny Carson with his last lines from the desk. Garth Brooks closed the show on a happy note, and Leno told his wife (sitting in front of him) that he’d be home soon.
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