Tonight Show's Jay Leno bids adieu after 22 years

Jay Leno, courtesy of NBC Universal: "This has been the greatest 22 years of my life"

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Long-time US television host Jay Leno has taped his final episode of The Tonight Show, with help from a few celebrity guests.

Leno, 63, appeared emotional as he thanked viewers for their loyalty after his 22 years as host.

He was joined by high-profile guests including Billy Crystal, Oprah Winfrey and Garth Brooks.

Fellow comedian and late-night host Jimmy Fallon, 39, takes over the programme on 17 February in New York.

The move is seen to be an attempt to woo younger viewers in a timeslot which, in recent years, has seen both Leno and 65-year-old David Letterman lose ground to the younger chat show host Jimmy Kimmel, 45, who is well liked within the key 18-49 demographic.

Record ratings

However viewers have flocked to Leno ahead of his departure, with his final full week drawing the programme's largest audience in four years.

Variety said that, according to Nielsen estimates, an average nightly audience of 4.99 million viewers tuned in to The Tonight Show during the week of 27-31 January.

That was up 30% from the comparable week in 2013.

Leno was briefly replaced on The Tonight Show by comedian Conan O'Brien in 2009, but returned to the show in 2010.

O'Brien was paid in excess of $33m (£20m) to end his seven-month reign, bringing to an end an ignominious dispute that saw both hosts air grievances on NBC's airwaves.

In 2012, the host took a pay cut to save the jobs of other members of staff as the broadcaster NBC moved to reduce the show's costs.

Reports at the time suggested his salary dropped by more than $5million (£3m) to $20m.

There is no official word yet on how much his replacement Fallon will earn, though it has been suggested it could be between $8m-$12m (£5m-£7m) per year.

Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon Fallon could appeal to a younger demographic
Oprah Winfrey Oprah Winfrey also lent her voice to the proceedings
Jay Leno (centre) with Jack Black and Kim Kardashian Celebrity guests included comic actor Jack Black
Sound of Music

In Leno's final show in charge, US President Barack Obama was one of many to send in taped goodbyes, offering to make Leno an ambassador to Antarctica.

"I hope you've got a warm coat, funny man," Mr Obama joked.

"Justin Bieber wasn't even born yet," Leno said about his early days as host in 1992. "That's why we call them 'the good old days.'"

Other celebrity guests on Thursday night's show included Jack Black and Kim Kardashian who both performed a pastiche of the Sound of Music Farewell Song.

Black sang: 'So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen my dear, if Fallon tanks you'll be back here next year".

Country singer Brooks closed the programme by performing his hit song, Friends in Low Places.

The show earned some glowing reviews. Website The Wrap said: "With a show that at once sad, funny, nostalgic and wise, Leno signed off from The Tonight Show after 22 years, striking a perfect tone".

The Washington Post called the show "as proudly unhip as the '90s-style stonewashed denim the host wears when he's off-camera".

"It wasn't until Leno's tearful speech at the end that this final show felt worthy of shelf space in television's historical vault," it added.

O'Brien, now hosting a show on rival network TBS couldn't resist a Winter Olympics-based dig at his former sparring partner telling his audience: "It's a big deal - NBC will finally get to show somebody who's okay with passing the torch."

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