Watch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
- 21 Seasons
Through the years, "The Tonight Show," a late-night TV marathon on NBC, has been a kind of barometer of what makes Americans laugh. Leading the laugh-athon as host for many of those years is a portly, smiley, stand-up comedian named Jay Leno. Each night he faces the camera with a bemused, somewhat unbelieving look as he waves his arms and comments on the latest folly to befall the American way of life. For a stand-up comedian whose high school guidance counselor suggested he drop out of school, Leno has come a long way. Born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1950, he grew up in Andover, Massachusetts - where he ran into the guidance counselor. Instead of dropping out, he went on to Emerson College, earning a bachelor's degree in speech therapy and starting a comedy club. In the 1970s, he landed mostly minor roles in several television series, but his big break came in 1987. He began to substitute for comic Johnny Carson, the regular, wildly popular, and loved (or hated) host of "The Tonight Show." When in 1992 Carson announced his retirement after 30 years on the job, Leno shocked most TV audiences by taking over and apparently outclassing David Letterman. Rumors had spread that comic Letterman was next in line for Carson's throne. Now the question was: Who could compete with the success of Carson? For a while, it looked as though the answer was "not Leno." He remained as host untl 2009, when comic Conan O'Brien took over. Leno stayed with NBC as host of "The Jay Leno Show," which featured celebrity interviews. However, by 2010 it seemed clear that neither Leno nor O'Brien were in the right place. Ratings were down for both, so NBC made a move. O'Brien took a payout and left "The Tonight Show." Leno was back as host on March 1, 2010, amid some criticism for what was perceived as his part in O'Brien's dismissal. Since that time, "The Tonight Show" - still the late night's most-watched TV program - and Leno of the prominent jaw are back in business. For thousands of viewers who can't sleep, "Heeeeeere's Johnny" has been replaced by "Welcome back, Jay!"