Jay Leno's (second) final Tonight Show is set to air this Thursday, and Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel have lined up big guests to try to compete with his big finale. Leno's guests on his last episode will be Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks.
Kimmel is bringing Matt Damon in as his guest, which will be Damon's first time on Jimmy Kimmel Live since a well-received and much-watched stunt episode last January in which he took over Kimmel's show. Damon will be joined by his costars from the movie The Monuments Men: George Clooney, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Bob Balaban. This will mark the first Kimmel appearance for Bill Murray, who's been a regular guest on competitor Letterman and has never done Leno's Tonight Show.
For Conan's episode opposite Leno's final show, he has the full cast of The Walking Dead in advance of the show's winter premiere. It's the first time the cast has been all together on a late night show. Leno's longtime competitor David Letterman is taking the high road and doing a pretty standard show with guests Michael Keaton and the Flaming Lips featuring Sean Lennon as part of CBS's "Beatles Week."
So many of Leno's rivals counterprogramming against his final show is likely due to the bad reputation he has against fellow late night hosts. While Letterman seems to have cooled off on his contempt for Leno in recent years, Leno did hand The Tonight Show to Conan O'Brien the last time he left and then came right back to the show after O'Brien left, refusing to move The Tonight Show's timeslot to 12:05am to accommodate Leno's return to 11:35. Leno teased Kimmel with a move to ABC after the first time he left The Tonight Show, and Kimmel has been trashing him in the press ever since and even did an impression of him for an entire show during the big Leno/Conan controversy. Landing big guests for Thursday may also be a decision by Kimmel and Conan to try to be ratings dominant in a post-Leno late night world since Leno, the #1 host in late night for over two decades, won't be around anymore less than a week from now.