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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

My favorite Jay Leno moments

In tribute to Jay Leno's departure from the Tonight Show Friday, here's a sampling of his best moments on the show:

Barack Obama visits Leno (March 19, 2009): The first time a sitting president ever visited a late-night show proved that someone should have done it sooner (but left the Special Olympics joke at home). Obama comes off as relaxed, witty and charming while Leno gets another groundbreaking pop culture moment on his air.

Hugh Grant comes clean (July 10, 1995): With one question -- “What the hell were you thinking?” – Leno cemented his ratings dominance over Letterman, turned a career-ending arrest by Grant into a cheeky joke and established a history of allowing controversial celebs to save their public images by submitting to a few moments on his couch (Exhibit Z: Monday’s twitchy appearance by self-described “Octo-Mel” Gibson).

Arnold Schwarzenegger announces governor’s bid (Aug. 6, 2003): It felt surreal, watching the star of Conan and the Terminator movies announce a serious bid for the California governor’s race from the heart of showbiz culture. But the spectacle made the front pages of every newspaper in the country and gave Leno enough space with Republicans for years worth of George Bush jokes.

A fictional Leno secretly listens in to an NBC conference call (1996): There were no paparazzi to capture the moment when it happened. But HBO’s game version of The Late Shift book re-created the moment when Leno crouched in a closet and listened to NBC executives discussing whether they should retain Leno as Tonight Show host, with Daniel Roebuck as the lantern-jawed comic (see the 2-minute mark; WARNING -- explicit language).

Bobcat Goldthwait sets Leno’s guest chair on fire (May 9, 1994): Letterman was the one with the reputation for awkward onscreen moments, so it was notable for Leno to suffer a rare moment of reality when comic Goldthwait squirted lighter fluid on the guest chair and set it on fire. Goldthwait got banned from the show for his trouble, simultaneously earning a spot in TV talk show history.

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:58pm]

    

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