Jay Leno: Career in Pictures
During the O.J. Simpson trial, “Tonight” underscored the circus-like atmosphere in court with this chorus line of black-robed jurists based on Judge Lance Ito.
The bit became a signature for “Tonight” and cemented the show’s ability to seize news items for humorous effect. (Con Keyes / Los Angeles Times)
Leno’s best-known “Tonight” bit is this pre-recorded man-on-the-street segment, where the host asks passersby relatively simple questions about U.S. history and other basic subjects then registers amazement at their confused or clueless replies.
Despite its popularity, the bit is not without controversy: Some critics have called it mean-spirited, while shock jock Howard Stern has claimed Leno ripped it off from his radio show. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)
In August 2003, the Austrian-born actor went on “Tonight” to announce that he was going to run for governor of California.
Some political analysts worried that by making the announcement on his old friend’s show, Schwarzenegger was trying to bypass tougher scrutiny.
In any case, he was elected governor -- and Leno’s couch became a reputable stop for politicos.
Barack Obama made history by becoming the first sitting president to visit a late-night talk show with a 2009 “Tonight” appearance. (Paul Drinkwater / Associated Press)
Despite -- or maybe because of -- his popularity, Leno has frequently been asked to apologize for jokes that some targets felt went too far.
Sometimes he’s actually said he’s sorry. In 2008, Ryan Phillippe told Leno that his first role had been as a gay teenager on a soap opera. Leno then asked Phillippe for his “gayest look.”
After the advocacy group GLAAD complained, Leno admitted his comeback “was a dumb thing to say.” (Matt Sayles / AP)
ABC host Kimmel has made no secret of his disdain for Leno, whom he’s accused of lacking “actual feelings.”
When NBC moved to bring Leno back to “Tonight” in 2010 after a brief foray with Conan O’Brien as host, Kimmel took aim. During a comedy bit on Leno’s prime-time show, Leno asked Kimmel if he’d ever ordered anything off the TV.
“Like NBC ordered your show off the TV?” Kimmel cracked, as a visibly uncomfortable Leno looked on.
Kimmel has since resisted any impulse to make nice with Leno. Ditto Letterman, who has taken to bashing his old friend from the comedy-circuit days. (Richard Cartwright / AP)
Leno has said he’s given his blessing to Jimmy Fallon taking over as “Tonight” host in 2014. But he said the same thing when O’Brien’s takeover was announced.
Already, there are bad feelings in the air.
After NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt reportedly complained to the “Tonight” host about jokes poking fun at the network’s low ratings, Leno responded last month with a holiday-themed joke: “St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland -- and then they came to the United States and became NBC executives.” (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)