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With Leno leaving, here’s the ultimate ‘Tonight’ quiz

So you say you’re sick to death of all these weeks of “Fallon-for-Leno on ‘Tonight’ ” stories? Who can blame you, especially now when they have all been confirmed. It was announced officially that Fallon would take over for Leno as host of the broadcasting institution in February after NBC has reaped the metric rewards of the Winter Olympics ratings juggernaut.

Still, the time has come to see if you’ve been paying attention.

A brief quiz to test your knowledge of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” polo. Anyone with a failing grade is sentenced to watching Leno’s “Tonight” until its winter 2014 demise.

1. David Letterman, 65, and Leno, 62, had the same joke about the official confirmation of what everyone already knew on their Wednesday shows. What was the only significant difference between the two jokes?

2. What was Jimmy Kimmel’s Wednesday monologue joke on the same subject?

3. The troubles of Leno are often said by some of us to be an illustration of the quintessential bumper sticker sentiment that “Karma is a bitch.” What specific event in Leno’s career is thought to be the source of karma’s anger at Leno?

4. Among those in showbiz with open public contempt for Leno, very few exceed the loathing of Howard Stern. What do you think the worst problem is between Stern and Leno?

5. The unfunniest continuing gag in Leno’s history at “Tonight” is … (your choice. Any plausible answer will be accepted, some for large extra credit.)

6. Leno’s chances for landing a new talk show at Fox are … (also your choice. All plausible guesses accepted.)

7. The funniest thing on late-night television to come out of the whole Fallon-for-Leno substitution was …

8. The oddest late-night reaction to the official announcement was …

9. The conspicuous Leno-lover whose public travails in the past 18 months may have prefigured those of his favorite late-night host was …

10. Finish this sentence: If you’re Leno, you know your reputation is in the commode when the biggest guest you can get on some nights is …

11. (Extra credit.) The NBC executive who first bounced Leno off “The Tonight Show” chair was …? Where is he now?


1. Letterman and Leno both joked that once again Letterman was passed over for “Tonight Show” host. The difference was that Leno said he had to break the news personally to Letterman and Letterman’s was that it was said by his nonagenarian mother commiserating with him.

2. Kimmel’s opening monologue joke on Wednesday’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”: “I will take over as new host of ‘The Tonight Show’ on NBC. (Pause. Confers with staff.) Apparently, it’s a different Jimmy who’ll be hosting ‘The Tonight Show.’ Does anybody know what the return policy is on a yacht?”

3. In Bill Carter’s first book on the battle for “Tonight” succession post-Johnny Carson, it was revealed that Leno’s late manager Helen Kushnick actively and vigorously campaigned against Carson continuing to occupy the chair and for her boy Jay to take over. It has been assumed ever since then that the retirement of the legendary Carson – one of the more melancholy events in American TV history – was, in no small measure, due to the full-scale demographic campaign of Leno’s forces. If so, there is no statute of limitations on it. Penance for life is required. Hence, the karma.

A minority view here is that when it happened, Letterman really wasn’t ready yet to be as middle American as he’s been on CBS at 11:35 p.m. It took Leno’s mediocrity to reveal to Letterman a way to be middle of the road without being Leno-dreadful.

4. On Stern’s radio show, his favorite celebrity interviewer and troublemaker was “Stuttering John” Melendez. Leno pilfered Melendez from Stern’s show to be his announcer and then busted him back down to off-camera writer.

5. Optional choice. My nomination? The staggeringly unfunny “dancing Itos” during the O.J. Simpson trial.

6. Not all that hot if you think about it. In fact, in Letterman’s run-through of the situation on his show, he said, with some unexpected tenderness for Leno, that his old friend from Comedy Store days would, when he leaves, be resuming the stand-up career he’s always loved. Since one has to assume Letterman to be privy to gossip to the max about a potential rival, it doesn’t seem likely, at this second, that Fox will jump too quickly in Leno’s direction.

At stake is the guest pool for yet another late-night talk show. It’s not infinite. One has to wonder, quite seriously, how many “celebrities” would be unfailingly loyal to Leno if he went to Fox.

7. Predictably, the split-screen clip of Fallon and Leno both doing a parody of “Tonight” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” No way that came from Leno’s gang. It was pure Fallon.

8. Letterman’s repetition of his previous O’Brien-for-Leno tenderness for Leno, placing all the blame, quite properly, on NBC’s unfathomable executives.

One must remember that for all that blood flowing under the bridge, Leno and Letterman were friends when they started out. And it is more than possible they have talked – possibly warmly – since the story broke.

9. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose last solo starring film and whose memoirs both tanked in public esteem. The world isn’t in love with Ah-nuld anymore. Leno’s “Tonight” is where Schwarzenegger announced he was running for governor of California.

10. Fill in the blank with almost any name (see 6, above). On many nights, Leno’s top guest was, at best, a celebrity C-lister hanging on by their fingernails.

11. (Extra credit.) Jeff Zucker, former Harvard boy, as was his designated Leno replacement Conan O’Brien, a former stalwart of the Harvard Lampoon. Zucker is now running CNN.

Score 10 points for each correct answer and as many points as you like for all optional answers. If you got the extra credit question right, give yourself as many points as you need to escape watching Leno for the rest of his tenure.

No one should have to suffer that.