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Jay Leno's farewell from 'Tonight Show' features surprises, great performances

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"The Tonight Show" - Jay Leno's Farewell Episode

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Jay Leno’s farewell (at least we think) from “The Tonight Show” on Thursday, Feb. 6 was a highly emotional one for the longtime host of America’s most-watched late night talk show.

Leno’s heartfelt and teary-eyed goodbye at the end of the episode was enough to bring tears to the eyes of the 14-plus million watching at home as he thanked everyone from his loyal fans to his crew to the many guests over the years at his Burbank, Calif. studio.

Leno’s departure from the show to make way for Jimmy Fallon’s newest installment of “The Tonight Show,” which debuts on Monday, Feb. 17, is one that is equally exciting and disappointing for many fans of late night television. Leno’s hardcore fans aren’t ready for the ratings king of late night to go, but over the years Leno has become the most polarizing and hated of the late night hosts for the debacle that saw him and NBC basically oust Conan O’Brien, Leno’s first ‘Tonight Show’ successor, from the show in 2010. Leno’s brand of humor is also criticized by many for being easy, “unfunny” and depending on the stupidity of others (Headlines, Jaywalking) for laughs.

Leno’s final monologue was generally unfunny as he rattled off a list of one-liners about the differences between his first episode of “The Tonight Show” and his last.

This was followed immediately by his last guest Billy Crystal, who was his first guest on “The Tonight Show” back in 1992. Crystal began his segment by running off a list of some of his favorite Leno monologue jokes from over the host’s 22 years on the show – some of which were actually funny. The highlight of Crystal’s appearance came when he and many surprise guests – Oprah Winfrey, Carol Burnett, Jack Black, Jim Parsons, Sheryl Crow, Kim Kardashian and Chris Paul – performed a funny take on “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music” to Leno’s amusement.

One of Leno’s all-time favorite musical guests, Garth Brooks, returned to the show to send Leno off with a performance of reportedly one of Leno’s favorite songs “The Dance.” The performance was exquisite, but maybe a bit too overdone in its message … but that just depends on how you feel about Leno, I guess. After Leno’s emotional goodbye, Brooks returned to the stage to perform a rendition of his rousing country classic “Friends in Low Places.”

For many of the reasons previously mentioned Leno’s legacy as host of “The Tonight Show” is going to be a contentious one, depending on your views of the man. However, his popularity (at least when it comes to ratings) cannot be denied. It should be interesting to see how new host Jimmy Fallon does in the ratings department, as compared to his predecessor, and more importantly for him and NBC against late night rivals David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.

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