On This Day: Jay Leno Makes His Debut as Host of the ‘Tonight Show’ in 1992

by Brandi Stillings
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Former late-night talk show host Jay Leno made his debut on May 25, 1992. A fourth incarnation of the “Tonight Show”, he started three days after Johnny Carson retired. Unlike his predecessors, Leno always looked to host in-person and had a guest host only one time.

“Let’s see how you all feel in 30 years, cracked Jay Leno on his first official episode as host of The Tonight Show, quipping that NBC’s flagship late-night show was the one TV program Dan Quayle “hates even more than Murphy Brown,” according to RollingStone.com.

Originating from NBC Studios in Burbank, California, the “Tonight Show” aired Monday through Fridays. The series followed the same familiar format, opening with a host monologue. Then, comedy routines, interviews with Hollywood’s biggest stars, and musical performances.

After 17 years, Leno was announced to be replaced by his successor Conan O’Brien. The plan was to have O’Brien take over hosting duties a few days after Leno’s final episode.

On the 50th anniversary of the “Tonight Show’s” debut, in September 2004, according to CNN, “NBC announced Leno would be succeeded by O’Brien. Leno explained he did not want to see a repeat of the hard feelings and controversy that occurred when he was given the show over Letterman following Carson’s retirement.

However, things didn’t go as planned for these late-night hosts. According to RollingStone.com,

“In an ugly turn of events similar to what went down between Leno and Carson’s chosen successor, David Letterman, Leno took back his old job in 2010. O’Brien went to cable, and Letterman, still bitter at Leno for getting his dream job, stayed at CBS.”

Eventually, Leno began hosting “The Jay Leno Show” in September 2009. It ended after a short run.

Jay Leno First Appears on the ‘Tonight Show’ Starring Johnny Carson

Roughly 44 years ago, Jay Leno made his first appearance on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Few would’ve guessed from the audience response, on March 2, 1977, he’d take over the late-night show eventually.

According to PrimeTimer.com, Leno eventually succeeded Joan Rivers as the “permanent guest host” of The Tonight Show in 1986, and then succeeded Carson himself as the regular host in 1992.

Leno’s hiring by NBC led Carson’s preferred choice, “Late Night” host David Letterman, to jump to CBS to start The Late Show as Leno’s direct competition. Leno would win that ratings fight for most of his tenure.

Be sure to search for this video clip online, showing Leno’s first actual time on the iconic series.

Outsider.com