Passage: Jay Leno and "The Tonight Show"

Jay Leno delivers his last monologue as host of "The Tonight Show," February 6, 2014. NBC

It happened this week: the end of an era for late night television.

Jay Leno retired as the host of NBC's "Tonight Show" on Thursday, nearly 22 years after taking it over – and some five years after leaving the show the FIRST time, when NBC (briefly) put Conan O'Brien in the late-night slot while Leno hosted a prime time talk show.

In his final monologue, Leno alluded to the fact that his second departure was not entirely his own idea:

"I don't need to be fired three times.  I get the hint.  I get the hint."

During his long late-night run, Leno talked to presidents and celebrities in his Everyman style, and almost always came out on top in the ratings.

Thursday night, he brought back his very first guest: fellow comedian Billy Crystal, who introduced an all-star cast ("The Shut Your von Trapp Family Singers!") to sing Jay Leno off.

Among the choristers: Oprah Winfrey, Carol Burnett and Kim Kardashian, with actor Jack Black getting perhaps the most pointed lyric:

"So long, farewell,
Auf wiedersehen, my dear.
If Fallon tanks,
You'll be back here next year."

That would be Jimmy Fallon, the NEW "Tonight Show" host, who starts one week from tomorrow night.

After 42 years in Burbank, Calif., NBC is bringing "The Tonight Show" back to its historic roots in New York, where Jimmy Fallon will be competing head-to-head with CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman, who offered his own salute to his long-time rival: "Congratulations on a wonderful run."

The final word, however, surely goes to Leno himself:

"We wouldn't be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life."


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