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Overview: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

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Overview: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

The Bottom Line

Jay Leno is the Pepsi to David Letterman's Coke - you either like one or the other, though you're willing to have a sip of the competition now and then. The Tonight Show under Leno has enjoyed stellar ratings partly due to its appeal to general audiences. Lately, the show has tried an edgier style, which has put off some long-time viewers.


  • A classic since its debut in 1954.
  • Family friendly
  • Appeals to a general audience


  • Show's style different from Carson-era
  • Show has taken on an edgier tone


  • Airs Monday through Friday at 11:35 a.m. EST on NBC
  • Debuted in 1954 as a variety show
  • Was a news program for six months in 1957
  • Groucho Marx guest hosted before Carson took over
  • For the first 10 years, Carson's Tonight Show was in New York
  • Hugh Downs was Jack Paar's announcer

Guide Review - Overview: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Truth told, I'm not a huge fan of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but only because my sensibilities are more in line with Letterman, Stewart and Conan. But I have to admit, Jay runs a tight ship, and for those who enjoy a more "blue collar" approach to comedy, The Tonight Show will float their boat.

The Tonight Show debuted in 1954, hosted by Steve Allen (then a variety show) and then Jack Paar, who switched the format to the one familiar today. He was followed by Johnny Carson. Both men were hailed as the quintessential talk show hosts of their time. Leno followed Carson and was briefly followed by Conan O'Brien in 2009.

The show, taped in Los Angeles, follows the standard talk show format, with monologue, skits, celebrity and musical guests. Some of the more popular features include "Headlines", in which Jay displays amusing news headlines, and Jaywalking, during which Leno hits the byways to interview the Man on the Street, often, admittedly, with hilarious results.

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