Jay Leno Debuts as Host of 'The Tonight Show,' May 25th, 1992 - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: Jay Leno Controversial Run as Host of ‘The Tonight Show’ in 1992

Comedian took over for Johnny Carson on May 25th, 1992 and hosted the show until 2014

“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 T.V. program Dan Quayle hates even more than Murphy Brown.”

If that very timely joke (about then-Vice President Quayle’s disdain for Candice Bergen’s sitcom, featuring a single mom) didn’t tip you off, Leno began his tenure taking over for Johnny Carson on May 25th, 1992 – three days after Carson said his final goodbye to a job he’d held since 1962. And while five years remain before that 30-year benchmark, Leno’s legacy as host is mixed at best.

What we know today is that Leno would start things off with guests Billy Crystal, teen singer Shanice Wilson, and future Radiolab co-host Robert Krulwich. He would host until 2009, when he was replaced by Conan O’Brien.

That, of course, didn’t work out. 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.

In his second stint at the show’s helm, Leno saw his ratings decline as Letterman’s ascended above him for the first time.  Finally, In 2014, Leno handed the reigns over to Jimmy Fallon. 

Watch how it all began in the clip above. 

In This Article: Jay Leno


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