Tonight, Jay Leno ends his 17-year tenure as host of The Tonight Show only to pop up again as host of The Let's Stab An Hour In The Throat Show With Jay Leno at 10pm in September, like some unwinnable version of late-night whack-a-mole. Not surprisingly, no one (except The Today Show, and, uh, Access Hollywood ) seems to be giving Leno the "fond farewell" treatment, mostly because it's difficult to get nostalgic about something that refuses to go away, but also because as it turns out there really isn't anything worth remembering about Jay Leno's Tonight Show. It's like the whole thing was so traumatic, the collective pop cultural mind blocked it out.
When Leno was recently asked for his most memorable moments on “Tonight,” he singled out Angie Harmon getting engaged on his show. The former “Law & Order” star was guesting on “Tonight” when Leno called out a surprise guest—her boyfriend, Jason Sehorn, star cornerback for the New York Giants. Sehorn knelt down on one of his bad knees and proposed.
What? Does anyone anywhere remember this? Pictures exist, so it must have happened. Occurred? Yes. Remembered? No.
I've seen this clip trotted out a few times in the past week as a memorable Leno moment, but before I was blissfully unaware that this had ever occurred. And, really, why would anyone remember that one time 10 years ago when some football player substituted the Tonight Show for a Jumbotron and proposed to one of the many ADAs from Law & Order? The fact that Leno has been hosting a comedy show for 17 years, and this is one of his most memorable moments speaks volumes about both him and the show.
Then there's Entertainment Weekly's "14 Classic Jay Leno Moments On The Tonight Show" (Apparently they couldn't even stretch the definition of "classic" to find another clip and round it up to 15):
14. Borat and Martha Stewart are on the show at the same time (Classic Jay!)
13. The tribute to Leno's predecessor, Johnny Carson
12. The first ever guest on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno--Billy Crystal
11. Jay talks to Jimmy Kimmel
10. Paul Newman and Leno race go-carts in the studio
9. Katie Couric and Jay Leno switch jobs for a week in 2003 (I'm pretty sure not even Katie Couric remembers this)
8. Leno has Roseanne tell Michael Jackson monologue jokes for him, because he's forbidden to by law. (If they had just forbidden him from telling funny Michael Jackson jokes, he wouldn't have needed a sub—Hey-ho!)
7. That stupid proposal no one cares about. (see above)
6. Leno does the show from the Cheers bar with the drunk Cheers cast (1993)
5. Arnold Schwartzenegger announces he's running for governor (You're probably still tingling from the excitement of that moment)
4. The only thing anyone remembers when they think "Jay Leno": The Dancing Itos
3. Bobcat Goltthwait sets a chair on fire (?)
2. Obama becomes first sitting president to appear on a talk show
1. Hugh Grant apologizes for the whole hooker thing
To sum up EW's incredibly scientific findings: the best parts about the Tonight Show With Jay Leno had nothing to do with Jay Leno. The best parts were the guests. More specifically, when the guests were either setting things on fire, proposing, drunk, apologizing for picking up hookers, eulogizing Johnny Carson, announcing they want to be governor of California, driving go-carts, or being Obama. Only two of these Leno moments (The Itos, and Roseanne tells Jacko jokes) could be classified as comedy bits, and one of them involved another person telling jokes instead of Jay Leno.
After 17 years on the air, three of the most memorable Leno moments are remembering Johnny Carson, when a football player turned the show into his own personal skywriting proposal, and when someone besides Leno told the jokes—Classic Jay!