He’s made hundreds of millions of dollars over his career, spent 22 years as the host of “The Tonight Show” (with one brief interruption), and has been number 1 in the ratings almost his entire run.
Yet, as the current reigning King of Late Night prepares to abdicate his throne to Jimmy Fallon, I kind of feel bad for the guy.
No matter how successful Jay Leno has been, his legacy will always be intertwined with the controversy which saw him give “The Tonight Show” to Conan O’Brien in 2009 for a few months before taking it right back.
A brief refresher in case you don’t remember: Jay Leno stepped down as “Tonight Show” host while Conan O’Brien stepped up. But Leno wasn’t ready to retire. So NBC offered him a 10 PM talk show. The ratings for both “The Tonight Show” and the new “Jay Leno Show” tanked. NBC panicked. Conan O’Brien quit. Jay Leno stepped back in as “Tonight Show” host. (This all happened within a matter of months.)
I don’t think Jay Leno is necessarily a bad guy. I don’t think he wanted Conan O’Brien to fail.
In fact, I admire a lot about Leno. He seems like a pretty down-to-earth guy in this recent interview with “60 Minutes” considering his fame and riches. I love that he still books regular stand-up comedy gigs across the country every week, still working hard and making time for his true passion.
So it’s really too bad his legacy will forever be intertwined with the Conan controversy. But Jay Leno chose that legacy.
Leno did not choose to make Conan quit. But he did choose to take “The Tonight Show” back.
Was it a good choice or a bad choice? Was it the right choice or the wrong choice? Hard to say.
But Leno chose his path. He could have easily chosen to walk away, and perhaps all the ill will could have been avoided.
We do not write our own legacies, but we are in control of them based on our own choices.
Remember the rich young ruler in the scriptures? I think this guy gets a bad rap too.
See, I think he was a man who desired to do the right thing. He was a law-abiding man. He kept all the commandments. He recognized Jesus as a spiritual authority and wanted to know how to follow him..
Yet the rich young ruler’s legacy is defined by one poor choice – the choice to cling to his possessions instead of fully following Jesus.
The rich young ruler, like all of us, was in control of his legacy. He did not write the story, but his actions spoke for him.
You don’t have to be rich like the young ruler or like Jay Leno to be in control of your legacy. You have choices everyday which define the stories that will be told about you.
You can do and say all the right things, you can be a good person, but all those things can easily be forgotten about because of one bad choice.
Jimmy Fallon and his new replacement Seth Myers will choose what sort of legacy they will leave as they follow in Leno’s footsteps over the next 15 or 20 years. I’m optimistic about their futures.
As for you, the choice is in your hands each day who you will follow. Will you wind up like the rich young ruler, a good person who made one wrong choice? Or will you choose to follow the Lord each day and each late night no matter what He asks of you?
But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)