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James Douglas Muir "Jay" Leno (pronounced /ˈlɛnoʊ/; born April 28, 1950)[1] is an American stand-up comedian and television host.

From 1992 to 2009, Leno was the host of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Beginning in September 2009, Leno started a primetime talk show, titled The Jay Leno Show, which aired weeknights at 10:00 p.m. (Eastern Time, UTC-5), also on NBC. After The Jay Leno Show was cancelled in January 2010 amid a host controversy, Leno returned to host The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on March 1, 2010.[3]

Early life

Jay Leno was born in New Rochelle, New York, on April 28, 1950. His mother, Catherine (née Muir), a homemaker, was born in Greenock, Scotland, and came to the United States at age 11. Her schooling was limited and as a result she prized her children's successes. Leno's father, Angelo, who worked as an insurance salesman, was born in New York to immigrants from Flumeri, Italy.[4] Leno grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, and although his high school guidance counselor recommended that he drop out of school, he later obtained a Bachelor's degree in speech therapy from Emerson College, where he started a comedy club in 1973.[5] Leno's siblings include his late older brother, Patrick, who was a Vietnam veteran[6] and a lawyer.[5]


File:Jay Leno (1993) by Alan Light.jpg

Leno in 1993, shortly after becoming host of The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show

Main article: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

He replaced Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show in 1992, after having been a regular substitute host for Carson since 1987.[7] Leno continued to perform as a stand-up comedian throughout his tenure on The Tonight Show.

In 2004, Leno signed a contract extension with NBC which would keep him as host of The Tonight Show until 2009.[8] Later in 2004, Conan O'Brien signed a contract with NBC under which O'Brien would become the host of The Tonight Show in 2009, replacing Leno at that time.[9]

During the 2007–08 Writers Guild of America strike, Leno was accused of violating WGA guidelines by writing his own monologue for The Tonight Show. While NBC and Leno claim there were private meetings with the WGA where there was a secret agreement allowing this, the WGA denied such a meeting.[10] Leno answered questions in front of the Writers Guild of America, West trial committee in February 2009 and June 2009, and when the WGAW published its list of strike-breakers on 11 August 2009, Leno was not on the list.[11][12]

Leno said in 2008 that he was saving all of his income from The Tonight Show and living solely off his income from stand-up comedy.[13]

On April 23, 2009, Leno checked himself into a hospital with an undisclosed illness.[14] He was released the following day and returned to work on Monday, April 27. The two subsequently cancelled Tonight Show episodes for April 23 and April 24 were Leno's first in 17 years as host.[15][16] Initially, the illness that caused the absence was not disclosed, but later Leno told People magazine that the ailment was exhaustion.[16][17]

Michael Jackson trial

In the 2005 trial of Michael Jackson over allegations of child molestation, Leno appeared as a defense witness (many celebrity defense witnesses had been expected, but Leno was one of the few whose testimony was actually needed). In his testimony regarding a call by the accuser, Leno testified that he never called the police, that no money was asked for, and there was no coaching — but that the calls seemed unusual and scripted.[18]

As a result, Leno was initially not allowed to continue telling jokes about Jackson or the case, which had been a fixture of The Tonight Show's opening monologue in particular. But he and his show's writers used a legal loophole by having Leno briefly step aside while stand-in comedians took the stage and told jokes about the trial. Stand-ins included Roseanne Barr, Drew Carey, Brad Garrett, and Dennis Miller among others.[19]

Succession by Conan O'Brien and The Jay Leno Show

Main article: The Jay Leno Show

Because Leno's show continued to lead all late-night programming in the Nielsen ratings, the pending expiration of Leno's contract led to speculation about whether he would become a late-night host for another network after his commitment to NBC expired.[20] Leno left The Tonight Show on Friday May 29, 2009,[21][22] and Conan O'Brien took over on June 1, 2009.

On December 8, 2008, it was reported that Leno would remain on NBC and move to a new hour-long show at 10 p.m. Eastern Time (9 p.m. Central Time) five nights a week.[23] This show follows a similar format to The Tonight Show, tapes at the same lot, and retains many of Leno's most popular segments. Late Night host Conan O'Brien was his successor on The Tonight Show.[24]

Jay Leno's new show, titled The Jay Leno Show, debuted on September 14, 2009. It was announced at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that it would feature one or two celebrities, the occasional musical guest, and keep the popular "Headlines" segments, which would air near the end of the show. First guests included Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey (via satellite), and a short sit-down with Kanye West discussing his controversy at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.[25]

Timeslot conflict and return to The Tonight Show

Main article: 2010 Tonight Show conflict
File:Im With Coco.jpg

O'Brien quickly gained online support during the controversy.[26]

In their new roles, neither O'Brien nor Leno succeeded in delivering the viewing audiences the network anticipated. On January 7, 2010, multiple media outlets reported that beginning March 1, 2010, Jay Leno would move from his 10pm weeknight time slot to 11:35pm, due to a combination of pressure from local affiliates whose newscasts were suffering, and both Leno's and O'Brien's poor ratings.[27][28] Leno's show would be shortened from an hour to 30 minutes. All NBC late night programming would be preempted by the 2010 Winter Olympics between February 15 and February 26. This would move The Tonight Show to 12:05am, a post-midnight timeslot for the first time in its history. O'Brien's contract stipulated that NBC could move the show back to 12:05 a.m. without penalty (a clause put in primarily to accommodate sports preemptions).[29]

On January 10, NBC confirmed that they would move Jay Leno out of primetime as of February 12 and intended to move him to late night as soon as possible.[30][31] TMZ reported that O'Brien was given no advance notice of this change, and that NBC offered him two choices: an hour-long 12:05am time slot, or the option to leave the network.[32] On January 12, O'Brien issued a press release that stated he would not continue with Tonight if it moved to a 12:05am time slot,[33] saying, "I believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show."

On January 21, it was announced that NBC had struck a deal with O'Brien. It was decided that O'Brien would leave The Tonight Show. The deal was made that O'Brien would receive a $33 million payout and that his staff of almost 200 would receive $12 million in the departure. O'Brien's final episode aired on Friday, January 22.[34][35][36] Leno returned as host of The Tonight Show following the 2010 Winter Olympics on March 1, 2010.

Public image

Criticism of Leno


Leno has faced heated criticism and some negative publicity for his perceived role in the 2010 Tonight Show timeslot conflict.[37][38] Critics have pointed to a 2004 Tonight Show clip, wherein Leno claimed he would allow O'Brien to take over without incident.[38][39] At the time, Leno stated he didn't want O'Brien to leave for a competing network, adding, "I'll be 59 when [the switch occurs], that's five years from now. There's really only one person who could have done this into his 60s, and that was Johnny Carson; I think it's fair to say I'm no Johnny Carson."[39] Leno also described The Tonight Show as a dynasty, saying "you hold it and hand it off to the next person. And I don't want to see all the fighting..." At the end of the segment, he said, "Conan, it's yours! See you in five years, buddy!"[40]

Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt was among the first celebrities to openly voice disappointment with Leno, saying, "Comedians who don't like Jay Leno now, and I'm one of them, we're not like, 'Jay Leno sucks;' it's that we're so hurt and disappointed that one of the best comedians of our generation... willfully has shut the switch off."[41] Rosie O'Donnell has been among O'Brien's most vocal and vehement supporters,[42][43] calling Leno a "bully" and his recent actions "classless and kind of career-defining."[44] Howard Stern, who has been openly critical of Leno for years, has become even more so in the wake of the controversy.[45]

Bill Zehme, the co-author of Leno's autobiography Leading with My Chin, told the LA Times: "The thing Leno should do is walk, period. He's got everything to lose in terms of public popularity by going back. People will look at him differently. He'll be viewed as the bad guy."[46]

Support for Leno

NBC Sports head executive and former Saturday Night Live producer Dick Ebersol spoke out against all who had recently mocked Leno, calling them "chicken-hearted and gutless."[47] Jeff Gaspin also defended Leno: "This has definitely crossed the line. Jay Leno is the consummate professional and one of the hardest-working people in television. It's a shame that he's being pulled into this."[46] Paul Reiser and Jerry Seinfeld are two of the few celebrities to have voiced support for Leno.[48][49] Responding to the mounting criticism, Leno claimed that NBC had assured him that O'Brien was willing to accept the proposed arrangement and then would not let either host out of his contract.[50] Leno also said that the situation was "all business."[50] He appeared on the January 28 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in an attempt to repair some of the damage done to his public image.[51][52]

Personal life

File:Obama and Leno.jpg

Leno with President Barack Obama in March 2009

Leno has been married since 1980 to Mavis Leno; they have no children.[53]

He is known for his prominent jaw, which has been described as mandibular prognathism.[54] In the book Leading with My Chin he stated that he is aware of surgery that could reset his mandible, but does not wish to endure a prolonged healing period with his jaws wired shut.

Leno is dyslexic.[5] He claims to sleep only four to five hours each night.[55] Leno does not drink or smoke, nor does he gamble.[56] He spends most of his free time visiting car collections or working in his private garage.[56]

Leno reportedly earns $32 million each year;[57] his total net worth is unknown, but has been estimated to be at least $150 million or more.[58] In an interview with USA Today, Leno claimed that he has never spent any of the money he's made from The Tonight Show, and has always lived off of the millions of dollars he makes each year from performing stand-up.[59]


In 2001, along with his wife, he donated $100,000 to the Feminist Majority's campaign to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan, to educate the public regarding the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Mavis Leno is on the board of the Feminist Majority.[60][61]

In 2009, he donated $100,000 to a scholarship fund at Salem State College in honor of Lennie Sogoloff. Mr. Sogoloff gave Leno his start at his jazz club, Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike.[62]


Leno arriving at the 45th Primetime Emmy Awards in his Hispano-Suiza Aero[63]

Vehicle collection

Leno owns approximately 200 vehicles, including about 100 cars.[64] He also has a website called "Jay Leno's Garage," which contains video clips and photos of his automobiles in detail.[65]

He has a regular column in Popular Mechanics which showcases his car collection and gives advice about various automotive topics, including restoration and unique models, such as his jet-powered motorcycle and solar-powered hybrid. Leno also writes occasional "Motormouth" articles for The Sunday Times,[66] reviewing high-end sports cars and giving his humorous take on automotive matters.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Jay Leno Biography". The New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2009. 
  2. James Hirsen, Dennis Miller: Why I 'Ascended' to the Right,, February 5, 2004.
  3. Adalian, Josef (January 21, 2010). "Exclusive: Conan, NBC Officially Splitsville (Updated)". The Wrap. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  4. "Jay Leno Biography (1950-)". Film Reference. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Carter, Bill. "Pushed From Late Night, Leno Is Set for Prime Time" The New York Times, 12 September 2009.
  6. Aivaz, Mike (October 18, 2007). "Obama on Leno: Hillary has declared 'mission accomplished' too soon". The Raw Story. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  7. "Carson cuts appearances". Rome News-Tribune (Rome, Ga.). Associated Press. June 2, 1987. p. 14. Retrieved October 26, 2008. 
  8. "NBC signs Jay Leno to contract extension". USA Today. Associated Press. March 31, 2004. Retrieved October 26, 2008. 
  9. Carter, Bill (September 27, 2004). "Conan O'Brien to Succeed Jay Leno in 2009, NBC Announces". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2008. 
  10. "LENO/WGA: WHAT'S THE REAL STORY? NBC Claims Jay Asked For & Received WGA Permission To Write Monologue At Secret Monday Meeting With Verrone". Deadline Hollywood Daily. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  11. Verrier, Richard (2009-08-11). "WGA: No chin music for Jay Leno". Company Town (Los Angeles Times). Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  12. Littleton, Cynthia (2009-08-11). "Jay Leno cleared of strike violations; WGA West issues penalties in three cases". Variety (New York City: Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  13. della Cava, Marco (July 17, 2008). "Jay Leno Gears up for Life After 'Tonight'". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  14. Hannah, Jack (2009-04-23). "Jay Leno hospitalized; 'Tonight Show' tapings canceled". (Cable News Network). Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  15. Dillon, Nancy (April 24, 2009). "Jay Leno released from the hospital". New York: NYDailyNews. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Jay Leno misses first show in 17 years". (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Canwest Publishing Inc.). Reuters. 2009-04-24. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  17. Warrick, Pamela (2009-05-01). "Jay Leno Reveals Mystery Ailment: Exhaustion". (Time Inc.). Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  18. Sweetingham, Lisa (May 24, 2005). "Comedians Jay Leno and Chris Tucker testify for Michael Jackson". Court TV. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 
  19. Showbiz Tonight. 2005-03-08. Retrieved on 2008-05-11.
  20. Moore, Frazier (May 18, 2008). "NBC's Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien swap prompts rumors". Newsday. Associated Press. Retrieved October 26, 2008. 
  21. Carter, Bill (July 22, 2008). "Date Is Set for Leno's 'Tonight' Finale". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2008. 
  22. Carter, Bill (2009-05-30). "Jay Leno Takes Final Bow on ‘Tonight Show’". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  23. Carter, Bill (December 9, 2008). "Where Is Leno Going? To Prime Time, on NBC". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010. 
  24. Associated Press (July 21, 2008). "Leno's last 'Tonight' announced". Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2008. Leno's last show was Friday, May 29, and O'Brien started the following Monday, June 1, NBC executives told a Television Critics Association meeting Monday. 
  25. Jay Leno Reveals What To Expect From His New Primetime Show
  26. "I'm With Coco": Inside the Conan O'Brien support movement, a 13 January 2010 PopWatch article from Entertainment Weekly
  27. "Future For NBC's Tonight Show Up In The Air", LA Times, January 2010.
  28. "Jay Leno Heading Back To Late Night, Conan O’Brien Weighing Options".
  29. Finke, Nikki (2010-01-07). NBC ON THE HOT SEAT: Will It Be Jay AND Conan In Late Night? What's The Reason For Leno's Anti-NBC Monologue Tonight?. Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  30. "NBC confirms move of "Leno Show""
  31. "Update: NBC Plans Leno at 11:30, Conan at 12", New York Times, 7 January 2010.
  32. "NBC to Conan O'Brien -- The Choice Is Yours", TMZ, 8 January 2010.
  33. Conan Won't Do "The Tonight Show" Following Leno,, 12 January 2010.
  34. Robert Seidman , NBC Announces That Jay Leno Will Return To Host “The Tonight Show” Beginning March 1,, 21 January 2010.
  35. NBC Universal Confirms Conan O’Brien Exit Deal Signed from Bloomberg via Business Week
  36. Conan O'Brien, NBC reach deal from CBC News
  37. Wall Street Journal article: "Why Some Comics Aren’t Laughing at Jay Leno".
  38. 38.0 38.1 Kansas City Star article: "Jay Leno is Mr. Nice Guy no more — but was he ever?".
  39. 39.0 39.1 Digital Journal article: Jay Leno in 2004: "In '09, Conan, it's yours"
  40. 2004 Tonight Show Clip: "Conan, It's yours!"
  41. Huffington Post article: "Patton Oswalt: Jay Leno Is Like Nixon, I Don't Like Him".
  42. Porter, Rick (2010-01-14). "Rosie O'Donnell is on Team Conan". Zap2it. Retrieved 2009-01-15. 
  43. New York Daily News article: "Rosie O'Donnell, Jimmy Kimmel slam Jay Leno over Tonight Show battle."
  44. New York Magazine article: "Rosie O’Donnell Has More to Say About Jay Leno."
  45. YouTube video: "Rosie O'Donnell Slams Jay Leno (Part 2 of 2)"
  46. 46.0 46.1 LA Times article: "Taking on America's 'nice guy'" - Page 2.
  47. LA Times article: "Taking on America's 'nice guy'".
  48. Huffington Post article: "Paul Reiser: A Teachable Moment."
  49. The Wrap article: "Seinfeld on Jay-Conan Debacle: 'I Can't Blame NBC'."
  50. 50.0 50.1 Entertainment Weekly article: "Jay Leno Tries to Make Nice, While Conan Rallies the Troops."
  51. Perez Hilton article: "Oprah Shows Some Tonight Show Love".
  52. article: "Confirmed, Jay Leno to Restore Reputation on 'Oprah'".
  53. "Jay Leno". Who's Who in America. Marquis. 
  54. Chudley, A.E. (1998). "Genetic landmarks through philately - The Habsburg jaw". Clinical Genetics 54 (4): 283–284. PMID 9831338. doi:10.1034/j.1399-0004.1998.5440404.x.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  55. Mike McLeod, Jay Leno - The Tonight Show's $1 Billion Man Collects Cars and Motorcycles,
  56. 56.0 56.1 Nevada Magazine article: "Classic cars and comedy".
  57. Forbes article: "Jay Leno - The Top 100 Celebrities".
  58. "Jay Leno's Net Worth."
  59. USA Today article: "Jay Leno gears up for life after 'Tonight'; video".
  60. "Hollywood's Latest Cause: Can A Pack Of Celebrities Save Afghanistan's Women?". Newsweek. December 6, 1999. 
  61. Greenberg, Susan H. (February 21, 2000). "So Many Causes, So Little Time Save The Rain Forest! Free Tibet! For Today's Stars, There's No Business Like Fund-Raising Business". Newsweek. 
  62. "Leno says thanks with $100k check". The Boston Herald. April 12, 2009. Retrieved November 29, 2009. 
  63. Update: 1915 Hispano-Suiza Aero Engine Car (video),
  64. The Cars,
  65. "Jay Leno's Garage". Official Website. 
  66. Moran, Michael (May 9, 2007). "Jay Leno's million dollar garage". London: The Times. Retrieved May 11, 2008. 

External links

  1. REDIRECT Template:IMDb name
Media offices
Preceded by
Conan O'Brien
Host of The Tonight Show
March 1, 2010–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Johnny Carson
Host of The Tonight Show
May 25, 1992–May 29, 2009
Succeeded by
Conan O'Brien
  1. redirect Template:The Tonight Show

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