Jay Leno opened his final monologue with one of his final digs at the network where he's been on the air for 22 years, but he ended the night in tears.
"I don't like goodbyes. NBC does. I don't care for them," Leno said to begin a monologue that took Leno's traditional soft aim at familiar targets. As his final guest, Leno brought on Billy Crystal, who happened to have been his first guest. The two reminisced about their days when they were both starting out in comedy, interestingly serving as a reminder of the times before Leno was tainted by Tonight Show politics. Crystal then brought a coterie of celebrities—from Carol Burnett to Kim Kardashian—to sing an adapted version of The Sound of Music's "So Long, Farewell."
"And all the executives that run NBC, are popping in to say you're through,'" Crystal sang. Jack Black's verse included the line: "If Fallon tanks, you'll be back here next year."
But Leno ended the night in tears, as he sat at his desk and said a goodbye which truly did feel like a goodbye. "The first year of this show I lost my mom," he said. "The second year I lost my dad. Then my brother died, and after that I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family." He said that he didn't go to any other network because: "I didn't know anyone over there." Read it as a re-writing of history or a heartfelt admission, it's how Leno has chosen to explain that period.
In reviewing the final show Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times perhaps put it best:
He was certainly not the most interesting of his peers, perhaps because he kept what was interesting out of the light. But let us, just for this moment, admit that mass appeal is no sin, nor pleasantness a crime. As (still) the most popular host in late night, Leno made many happy, and no one's happiness is less real than another's.
"It really is time to go and hand it off to the next guy," Leno said. And this time you actually believe him.