NEW YORK — Jay Leno ushered out one of television's biggest flops without sentiment on Tuesday, the final night of a prime-time experiment doomed by bad ratings and bad vibes.
Leno told a few barbed jokes about "The Jay Leno Show," and Donald Trump told him "you're fired." Leno will return to his old perch at the "Tonight" show after the Olympics.
Desperate to keep both Leno and Conan O'Brien, NBC gave Leno a show five nights a week at 10 p.m. EST and made O'Brien the "Tonight" show host. "The Jay Leno Show" was one of the boldest scheduling moves in years, but the size of Leno's audience – while fine for late night – couldn't cut it in prime time.
Late news shows following Leno on NBC affiliates dropped sharply in the ratings. With some affiliates threatening to yank Leno, NBC proposed cutting his show to a half-hour at 11:35 p.m. and moving O'Brien back a half-hour. O'Brien refused and took a buyout from NBC.
"It seems like just yesterday I was telling NBC this was not going to work," Leno said in his final monologue, and it wasn't clear he was joking.
"This show was supposed to be on for two years," Leno said, "but we got five months for good behavior."
Leno said he should have known it wasn't going to last, and he showed a film of him pulling his car into a parking space that said, "Jay Leno, No Parking After Feb. 9."
Actor Ashton Kutcher was a guest, and recently retired pro football quarterback Kurt Warner was brought on to throw a few passes to him. Actress Gabourey Sidibe came on to talk about her best actress nomination for the Academy Awards.
Leno didn't talk about the "Tonight" show move. The studio set, if it's kept, will require some changes: the number 10 is now inlaid onto the stage where Leno stands to deliver his monologue.
When the show ended, there wasn't any time to say goodbye. A question-and-answer session with NBC Sports anchor Bob Costas appeared to run long, and Leno barely had time to urge his viewers to stay tuned for the late local news.