Jay Leno set to make his 2nd exit from 'Tonight' show this week

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Jay Leno set to make his 2nd exit from 'Tonight' show this week
Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honoree Jay Leno is applauded by the audience at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Jay Leno is interview on the red carpet as he arrives at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Mark Twain Prize for American Humor honoree Jay Leno waves to the audience as he is announced at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Mark Twain Prize honoree Jay Leno passes the bust of Mark Twain to Jerry Seinfeld after being presented with the prize at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Mark Twain Prize honoree Jay Leno tells jokes after being presented with the prize at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Mark Twain Prize honoree Jay Leno speaks after being presented with the prize at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Mark Twain Prize honoree Jay Leno holds the prize as he is joined by, from left, Al Madrigal, Robert Klein, Chelsea Handler, Kristen Chenoweth (behind Leno), J.B. Smoove, Jerry Seinfeld, Wanda Sykes, Seth Meyers, and Kevin Eubanks speaks at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno poses for a photo with fans at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: (L to R) Alex Sykes, Wanda Sykes, honoree Jay Leno and his wife Mavis arrive at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno and his wife Mavis Leno arrive at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Honoree Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor honoring Jay Leno at The Kennedy Center on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2014 file photo, comedian Jay Leno performs during the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in [Beverly Hills, Calif. Standup comedy will have a home at the Kennedy Center more than once a year now as the arts center plans to make laughter a more permanent part of its repertoire. On Thursday, the center is announcing a new comedy series, presenting three top acts each year, beginning with Jay Leno and Kathy Griffin in 2015. The new program comes just before Leno is awarded the Mark Twin Prize for American Humor, the nation’s top humor prize, on Sunday at the center. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno speaks onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Recording artist Josh Groban (L) and master of ceremonies Jay Leno speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno (L) and music producer David Foster speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Master of Ceremonies Jay Leno (L) and Carousel of Hope Chairman Barbara Davis speak onstage at the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball presented by Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Jay Leno and wife Mavis Leno arrive at the 2014 Carousel Of Hope Ball Presented By Mercedes-Benz at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 11: Comedian Jay Leno attends the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Jay Leno poses for a portrait at his car garage on Wenesday September 24, 2014 in Burbank, CA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Jay Leno is interviewed at his car garage on Wenesday September 24, 2014 in Burbank, CA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno changes clothes after performing at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno performs at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANCASTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jay Leno is interviewed before performing at the American Music Theatre on Sunday September 21, 2014 in Lancaster, PA. The longtime host of The Tonight Show, continues to tour extensively performing comedy. Leno is going to be the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: Host Jay Leno reminisces on his 22 year run as host of the Tonight Show on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Jack Black, host Jay Leno and Kim Kardashian during Jay Leno's farewell song on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Billy Crystal, left, talks to host Jay Leno during the final taping of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," in Burbank, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Leno brings his 22-year career as the show host to an end Thursday in a special one-hour farewell broadcast. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actress Carol Burnett, singer Sheryl Crow, actor Jack Black, basketball player Chris Paul, host Jay Leno, actor Jim Parsons, Kim Kardashian, and Oprah Winfrey during Jay Leno's 'Farewell Song' on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: (l-r) Musical guest Garth Brooks and host Jay Leno on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4610 -- Pictured: Musical guest Garth Brooks performs on February 6, 2014. (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Comedian Jay Leno appears onstage during a commercial break on the final episode of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at The Burbank Studios on February 6, 2014 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
FILE - In this July 30, 1993 file photo, Ed McMahon, left, former announcer of the "Tonight Show," looks on as "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno breaks into laughter during the taping of the show in Burbank, Calif. McMahon, the loyal "Tonight Show" sidekick who bolstered boss Johnny Carson with guffaws and a resounding "H-e-e-e-e-e-ere's Johnny!" for 30 years, has died at a Los Angeles hospital. He was 86. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Air Date 01/28/1992 -- Pictured: Guest host Jay Leno on January 28, 1992 (Photo by Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 30 -- Pictured: host Jay Leno during 'presidential poll' segment on June 30, 1992 (pictured) president William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton (Photo by Wendy Perl/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - AUGUST 4: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton appears on the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios August 4, 2003 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 4570 -- Pictured: (l-r) Former President George W. Bush during an interview with host Jay Leno on November 19, 2013 -- (Photo by: Stacie McChesney/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Al Gore at 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios in Burbank, Ca. Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect.
President Barack Obama, left, appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in Burbank, Calif. Thursday, March 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN -- Episode 1144 -- Pictured: (l-r) The new host of 'The Tonight Show' Jay Leno, host David Letterman on May 7, 1992 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Comedian Jay Leno during an interview with guest host David Letterman on July 4, 1979. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank)
Jay Leno breaks out in laughter as band leader Branford Marsalis reveals his bikini during taping of "The Tonight Show" in Burbank, Calif., Feb. 2, 1993. Marsalis wore the attire after losing a Super Bowl bet to Leno. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
British actor Hugh Grant,left, reacts to a question about his arrest for lewd conduct from host Jay Leno during the early moments on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,"  Monday, July 10, 1995 in Burbank, Calif. It was Grant's first publicity appearance since his arrest involving a prostitute. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, in military gear, arrives at the NATO base of Aviano, northern Italy, Saturday Dec.16 1995. What's a U.S. troop deployment without big-name entertainment? Jay Leno, in the tradition of Bob Hope and other USO stars, flew in to this air base Saturday to buck up morale for the first large group of U.S. troops headed for Bosnia. (AP Photo/Alberto Lancia)
Talk show host Jay Leno, left, and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, right, hold piglets during the taping of "The Tonight Show" at the NBC studios in Burbank, Calif. Friday, April 26, 1996. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Elizabeth Dole, left, wife of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, reacts as she sits on the back of a motorcycle with Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," Monday, Sept. 30, 1996, before a taping of the show in Burbank, Calif. Mrs. Dole was a guest on the show. (AP Photo/NBC, ho)
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton gestures during a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC studios in Burbank, Calif., Friday Aug. 11, 2000.(AP Photo/Michael Caulfield)
Brad Johnson, left, and Keyshawn Johnson, center, of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joke with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, Monday, Jan. 27, 2003, in Burbank, Calif. The Buccaneers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, jokes with host Jay Leno during taping of "The Tonight Show" in Burbank, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2003. Schwarzenegger announced that he would run for governor of California in the recall election scheduled for Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., left, and "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno share a moment during Kerry's appearance on the show at NBC studios in Burbank, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
"The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno poses with a copy of his new children's book "If Roast Beef Could Fly," Monday, March 22, 2004, in Burbank, Calif. It's based on a family cookout from his childhood in which mischief led to a ruined rotisserie of meat. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
Members of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, from left, Dave Roberts, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, David Ortiz and Derek Lowe reacts as Jay Leno rips open his shirt to reveal a "Papie" t-shirt during their visit to the ''Tonight Show with Jay Leno,'' on Monday night, Nov. 1, 2004, in Burbank, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Comic Jay Leno speaks as he accepts the Hall of Fame award on behalf of the Tonight Show from the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, Monday, April 18, 2005. The convention attracts 100,000 participants from around the world.(AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)
"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno holds up his Daytona 500 credentials as he leans on the pace car Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2006, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Leno is scheduled to drive the pace car before the start of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Jay Leno reacts as he tells a story during an interview at the Palace in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, April 7, 2009. Leno is in the Detroit area to promote two performances billed as "Jay's Comedy Stimulus Plan." (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Jay Leno, right, and his wife Mavis arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party on Sunday, March 7, 2010, in West Hollywood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)
Comedian Jay Leno, far right, pokes some fun at President Barack Obama, second from right, during the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Saturday, May 1, 2010, in Washington. At far left is first lady Michelle Obama, second from left is Matt Winkler of Bloomberg. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Jay Leno performs onstage at the David Lynch Foundation: A Night of Comedy honoring George Shapiro at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Saturday June 30, 2012 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision for David Lynch Foundation/AP Images)
Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon, late night talk show hosts.
Jay Leno arrives on May 5, 2014 for a demonstration in support of Women's Rights and LGBT groups across from the Beverly Hills Hotel, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who also owns the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, in Beverly Hills, California, which passed a resolution demanding May 7, 2014 the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, sell his hotel in the posh US city after he announced last week that he would push ahead with implementing sharia law, despite criticism both at home and internationally. The city council said they will send the resolution to the State Department asking Washington to 'take appropriate action to condemn the Brunei government's policies.' AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 5: Comedian Jay Leno participates in a rally to protest draconian punishment of women and gay people announced by the Sultan of Brunei outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan, on May 5, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. The Sultan of Brunei is planning to implement a brand of Sharia Penal Code which calls for the stoning of people for various offenses including homosexual acts, adultery, sodomy and extramarital sexual relations, a move that has been criticized by The United Nations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
FILE - This May 21, 2014 file photo shows American comedian Jay Leno reacts during an interview with the Associated Press in Jerusalem. Newly retired from “The Tonight Show,” Leno is now being awarded the nation’s top humor prize by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Leno will be honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by his fellow comedians in a performance Oct. 19 in Washington. The show will be broadcast nationally in November on PBS. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
FILE - This Jan. 13, 2013 file photo shows Jay Leno, left, and Jimmy Fallon backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. Fallon will lead top comedians in saluting his “Tonight Show” predecessor Jay Leno with the nation’s top humor prize in October at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Leno will receive the prize during a performance by his fellow comedians Oct. 19 in Washington. The show will be broadcast nationally Nov. 23 on PBS stations. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, file)
Jay Leno arrives at the 2014 Carousel Of Hope Ball on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
EXCLUSIVE - Warren Littlefield, left, and Jay Leno pose backsage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Tonya Wise/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
EXCLUSIVE - Matthew McConaughey, left and Jay Leno pose in the green room at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
Jay Leno presents the award for outstanding comedy series on stage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
Jay Leno presents the award for outstanding comedy series on stage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
Jay Leno, left, and Kathy Bates backstage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
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BURBANK, Calif. (AP) - Jay Leno, as affably efficient backstage as he is in front of the camera, avoids waxing poetic about his 22-year "Tonight Show" run that draws to a close Thursday.

Instead, he relies on numbers to tell the story. Leno's tenure is second only to Johnny Carson's 30 years; "Tonight" was No. 1 among viewers when he took it over and will be when he hands it off to Jimmy Fallon; he'll have taped more shows than any predecessor, Carson included, with the final and 4,610th one.

His dry assessment also may stem from a case of deja vu. After all, he lived through this before when he surrendered "Tonight" in 2009 to Conan O'Brien, only to reclaim it after NBC's messy bobbling of the transition and O'Brien's lackluster ratings.

But this time it's different, Leno contends, offering another hard fact: The older generation has to make way for the younger one.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II can keep 65-year-old Prince Charles cooling his heels. Leno doesn't have the power to do the same with Fallon, 39. The "Late Night" host is moving the show from its longtime Burbank home, near Johnny Carson Park and off Bob Hope Drive, to its New York birthplace when he debuts as host on Feb. 17.

"It's been a wonderful job but this is the right time to leave," said Leno, whose once-dark mop of hair is now a neatly groomed silver. "I'm at that age where I don't really listen to the (current) music anymore. I'm not a big tweet guy. A 63-year-old guy reading Miley Cyrus' tweets is a little creepy. Move on."

He makes the argument with the precision of one of his reliable monologue jokes, just as he did when he claimed to understand NBC's decision to evict him for O'Brien - even as he reamed the network on the air.


The years between then and now have seen changes come at a quickening pace, with an ever-more crowded late-night arena and a shifting media environment. Fallon's parody music bits with contemporaries like Justin Timberlake are perfect cut-and-pastes for sites like YouTube that drive young viewer attention and offer new potential for ad sales as network revenues shrink.

In 2012, "Tonight" laid off 20 staffers and Leno took a 10 percent pay cut. The show has averaged a 3.5 million nightly viewership in the past 12 months, which pales in comparison with the double-digit audiences it once claimed.

Leno is planning to expand the comedy club gigs he never abandoned and various outlets for his automotive passion, including the Web show "Jay Leno's Garage," and the magazine and newspaper pieces he writes. He insists his schedule won't include another late-night show, which could only be what he calls "Tonight Light."

"It's hard to re-create this moment. It's like the fighter coming back. You got to be world champion, so it's kind of silly," he said.

"Tonight," which launched in 1954, was shaped by original host Steve Allen and nurtured by successors Jack Paar and Carson. Following them represented the pinnacle for comedians, and it was the role Leno coveted and won upon Carson's 1992 retirement.

His first few months were marred by Leno's longtime manager Helen Kushnick, who, as his first "Tonight" executive producer, was blamed for instigating nasty guest booking wars and fired in what then was characterized as one of TV's biggest publicity nightmares.

Worse was to come, when NBC's "Tonight" host succession plan hatched in 2004 went awry. Leno, who stoically endured insults from Jimmy Kimmel and others who portrayed him as having stolen O'Brien's job, says the past is past. CBS' Letterman, who once jockeyed with Leno for Carson's throne, echoed that.

"How long can I carry this with me?" he told Howard Stern during a SiriusXM interview Friday. He spoke of calling Leno when his second "Tonight" departure was announced, their first conversation in several years, and tipped his hat to his rival when Stern asked if Leno sounded sad.

"I wouldn't say sad. There's nothing to be sad about. He's had a tremendous career there," Letterman said, graciously.

Others have chimed in. "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher, a regular "Tonight" guest, and Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy," ''Ted,") serenaded Leno last week to the tune of "Thanks for the Memories." It was reminiscent of Bette Midler's saucy "You Made Me Watch You" tribute to Carson. This parody was edgier.

"You've been retired and twice been fired for being No. 1. How stupid they are," the pair sang, zinging NBC as a surprised, bemused Leno watched.

Maher was expansive when asked to comment on Leno.

"As a performer trying to make it in show business, and as a human being, you cannot do better than ask, 'What would Jay do?'" Maher said in an email Saturday.

Leno's final show will feature Billy Crystal, his first "Tonight" guest, and Garth Brooks. Leno's legacy - a word that makes him squirm - might include expanding the show's opening monologue; a memorable mea culpa from Hugh Grant after he was arrested in 1995 with a prostitute; the first interview with a sitting president, Barack Obama, in 2009; and the "Jaywalking" fixture, which trips up people with simple questions.

Leno's favorite Q&A is that those queried about how Mount Rushmore was formed often reply, "erosion." His head-shaking reaction: "The wind and rain not only picked four presidents, it picked four of our greatest presidents!"

Was he the most daring, most innovative, most surprising force in late-night? His critics and even clear-eyed admirers said no, and Leno doesn't argue with them - but that's not what counts, he adds: "Whether you like the host or not, you cannot say it's not been a success. A football team might not have the most sophisticated players but can win the Super Bowl."

Leno cannot be called unsophisticated but he is determinedly un-show biz. He makes note of his modest New England upbringing, the high school friends he remains close to, his three-decade marriage to wife, Mavis, and the many "Tonight" staffers who remained loyal throughout his tenure.

Hollywood has been a place to get to tell jokes to a big audience, reap millions of dollars to be carefully saved and keep a safe distance from the circus.

"When this is over, I don't get to my table at (posh restaurant) Morton's and" - here, he feigns dismay as he mimics a maître d' - 'Sorry, Mr. Leno, this is Mr. Fallon's table.'"

Instead, the day after Leno steps off the "Tonight" stage, the one designed for him, he will travel to Florida for a handful of club dates, his wife at his side. And, he said, he'll be content with that.

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AP Television Writer Frazier Moore in New York contributed to this report.

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Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter@lynnelber.
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