Jay Leno will conclude his 22-year run headlining Tonight in spring of next year, at which point the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon host will move up an hour to the 11:35 p.m. slot. The move also will see Tonight return to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, where it will be executive produced by Fallon’s former Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels.
“Congratulations, Jimmy,” said Leno. “I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy. If you need me, I’ll be at the garage.”
The announcement comes just one month after The Hollywood Reporter revealed NBC was preparing an exit plan for Leno. THR further reported on Tuesday that Fallon had signed the Tonight deal and that Saturday Night Live stalwart Seth Meyers is being eyed as his Late Night replacement.
“Jay Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years,” said NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. “His long reign as the highest-rated late-night host is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to his viewers and to NBC.”
With the exception of the seven-month lapse in 2009-10 when Leno lost the Tonight\ reins to Conan O’Brien, he has hosted the show since taking over from Johnny Carson in 1992.
“We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1,” added Burke. “Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent, and this is his time. I’m thrilled he will become the sixth host of The Tonight Show at exactly the right moment, in conjunction with our coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia.”
Both Fallon and Leno have tried to ease public perception of tensions over the transition. The duo sang an amusing on-air duet at the top of Monday’s Late Night, mocking NBC’s uncertainty and suggesting there were no hard feelings between the two. The 2010 ouster of O’Brien left a bad taste in some mouths, including the host — who has voiced his displeasure with NBC’s handling several times since.
Of his new job, Fallon said, “I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.”
Said Burke: “I also want to congratulate and thank Debbie Vickers and her Tonight Show team for producing an entertaining, first-class show every night for the past two decades. Debbie’s role in the creative and popular success of this franchise cannot be overstated.”
As for Late Night and Meyers’ possible move, NBC would say only that plans for the 12:35 a.m. time period are in development and will be announced at a later time.