A popular comedian during the 1970s, Jay Leno is best known as the man who replaced Johnny Carson at the helm of The Tonight Show in 1992. Leno was born James Douglas Muir Leno to parents of Italian and Scottish heritage (Leno is particularly fond of discussing the Italian part) in New Rochelle, NY, but was raised in Andover, MA. During the year in which he was establishing his standup career, Leno was performing 300 nights throughout North America. He made his television debut on the Merv Griffin Show and his acting debut in Silver Bears (1977). That year he appeared in the cast of the short-lived Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show, a musical variety summer replacement series.
By the early '80s, Leno had left behind any notion of becoming an actor because his comedy career was in high gear. His subsequent film appearances have been as himself or as a parody of himself (The Flintstones, 1994). Leno made his first appearance on The Tonight Show on March 2, 1977. Though he can be sharp and is an astute political commentator, there is something nice and comforting about the soft-eyed, lantern-jawed funnyman that appeals to vast middle-American audiences, the same sort who regularly tuned in to Carson. It is small wonder that Leno became Carson's sole guest host by 1987. Leno hosted his first show as Carson's successor on May 25, 1992, with comedian Billy Crystal as his first guest. There was much furor surrounding the selection of Leno as many believed fellow late night gab-meister David Letterman would inherit the throne.
Since taking the Tonight Show's reigns, Leno has attempted to inject the show with a slightly hipper edge by featuring more radical musical acts and affecting a more casual look. It's a tough balancing act, for he must do so without alienating his older, more conservative fan base.
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