Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Countdown to Conan: The Leno Legacy

Jay Leno is leaving the late night world this week the way he came in: At number one.

Still, Leno did encounter some rough seas shortly after he took over for Johnny Carson. "Many fans and TV critics thought Letterman deserved Carson's chair," notes TV Guide's Stephen Battaglio.

Letterman thought so too and moved to CBS, where he ran neck and neck with Leno for the first couple of years until one show in July of 1995 changed everything. British heartthrob Hugh Grant had been arrested days earlier for soliciting a prostitute, but he still honored his previously scheduled visit with Leno.

The ratings gold spun from that one show turned the late night tide in Leno's favor. "The Tonight Show"'s new viewers saw a new, more intimate set that was a nod to Leno's comedy club roots and made the host feel more at home.

He kept telling jokes, even on weekends, at comedy clubs around the country. "You go to Ohio, you go to Boston, Maine, Oklahoma, if a joke works in all of those places, it'll probably work on The Tonight Show," Leno explained.

Now, Leno takes his comedy to prime-time and passes the Tonight Show torch to his final guest, Conan O'Brien.

O'Brien gets to run with the show starting next Monday, June 1st.

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