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Producer: 'Tonight Show' goodbye is 'killing' Jay Leno

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A total of 14.6 million viewers tuned in Thursday to see Jay Leno wrap up his 22 years as host of the "Tonight Show."

Leno got visibly choked up in the final few minutes of the show as he offered thanks to the audience.

"You folks have been incredibly loyal," said Leno. "This has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars. It's just been incredible."

Dave Berg, who was a producer on the "Tonight Show" for 18 years, and was in the audience for the final show and tells KIRO Radio's Dori Monson that seeing Jay so emotional is not normal.

"What is significant about it," said Berg, "Jay is not a guy to get worked up about anything. But he was truly emotional in that moment at the show."

For the last two decades, Berg said Leno has dedicated his entire life to the "Tonight Show."

"Many people have heard he gets four hours of sleep a night. But truly, that's what he gets, four hours of sleep a night. The rest of the day for him is spent on the show, mostly the monologue."

Berg said Jay goes through about 1,500 jokes a day trying to find just the right ones to entertain his audience, and each audience member is important to him.

"In my case, I was kind of the fuddy-duddy on the staff, the conservative guy," said Berg, "and he tried to respect all points of view, so he would often call me in and say 'What do you think of this joke?' 'Do you think people in Omaha would be offended?'"

Monson, a big late-night TV fan himself, said while other hosts like Letterman seemed to be losing steam the last few years, it didn't seem like Leno was.

"The thing I respected about Leno was the work ethic," said Monson. "It looked like Letterman started mailing it in about seven or eight years ago, and it looked like Leno just put the pedal to the floor a little bit harder at that point."

Berg said Jay has actually still been leading the pack in late-night TV. "The fact is, Jay's ratings have been dominant in all the demographics."

He said he thinks the executives making the decisions just don't get Leno.

"I think they reasoned as many other executives had before them, you want to appeal to the younger demographic and such," said Berg.

"They might have been influenced by the critics who said oh Jay is the bland guy, Jay is not edgy."

Either way, the execs made the decision to let Leno go, and it's very hard for him, Berg said. "It is killing him. I believe that it is. He was fired, plain and simple."

"He has to make this look as good as possible, but the fact of the matter, Jay thinks like a championship boxer. And if there's a boxer in the ring and he's winning the fight, he's not going to step out in the sixth round and say, 'Oh you don't want me to fight anymore. OK I quit."

While many are thinking Jay will go back to standup comedy and cars, Berg said he's not ruling out Jay's return to TV.

"He's at the top of his game right now. I think that as a little time goes by and we get to the end of his contract period, which is in September, when opportunities come up such as CNN, such as perhaps even FOX," said Berg, "I think he'll entertain the opportunity to, if it's extended, to do a daily show where he can do topical humor."

David Berg has a new book "Behind The Curtain: An Insider's View Of Jay Leno's Tonight Show" coming out in the spring.

Jamie Skorheim, MyNorthwest.com Editor
Whether it's floating on Green Lake, eating shrimp tacos at Agua Verde, or taking weekend drives out to the Cascades, she loves to enjoy the Pacific Northwest lifestyle as much as humanly possible.
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