LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Jay Leno, America’s top-rated TV host, will bow out of his 17-year stint on “The Tonight Show” on May 29 in the company of his successor Conan O’Brien and singer James Taylor.
Leno, 59, also promised “something really out of the left field” for his last “Tonight Show” before going on to launch a new prime-time chat and comedy show in the fall.
Actor Mel Gibson, comedian Billy Crystal, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and rocker Prince will be among the guests in Leno’s final week.
“It’s not my job to put it together, but everyone knows who I like,” Leno told reporters in a conference call.
O’Brien will take over from Leno on June 1 in a reshuffle on struggling network NBC that will see Leno return in a new show five nights a week in the 10 p.m. slot — traditionally reserved for scripted drama.
Leno said he had barely begun working on the new show but defended the move to the prime-time slot used by network TV for some of the most lucrative hours of advertising.
“There really isn’t any comedy on at 10 p.m. Everything is very serious and adult murder and all these procedural shows. It is fun to have something a little bit different,” he said.
The move will save NBC, currently lagging at the bottom of the four major TV networks in ratings, millions of dollars compared to the costs of scripted drama.
“This is not a decision we went into lightly,” Leno said. “All the research came back saying people wanted some comedy and we thought going earlier was a good idea.
“I am not going to ram it down people’s throats. Let’s see if it is something that will work,” he said..
Leno said he expected to shed few tears at ending his stint after more than a decade battling CBS rival David Letterman.
“It’s not like you are leaving showbusiness, or leaving the network, or even leaving the (studio) lot.” (Editing by Alan Elsner)