BREAKING…NBC‘s Upfront presentation today officially announced that Jay Leno will end his 22-year run on The Tonight Show during the week leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics which start February 7th. And that Jimmy Fallon will be introduced during the second week of the Sochi games when ratings are at their highest. NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said Fallon will settle into his 11:30 PM Tonight Show slot on Monday, February 24th, followed by the debut of Late Night With Seth Meyers at 12:30 AM.
NBC Broadcasting chief Ted Harbert kicked off the upfront by explaining the changeover with this understated description: “Things are shifting and changing in late-night.” But if any of the media buyers or advertisers in the audience thought NBC was going to candidly say why they’re taking off the network’s #1 Tonight Show host for two decades, they got a joke instead. Promising a “slight change” in late night, Greenblatt deadpanned, “I’m stepping down in 2014 and Jay Leno will be taking my job.” Later, Greenblatt offered as explanation only the “increasingly competitive” late night landscape and that the network wanted to “pass the baton while still No. 1…” Then he launched into praise for the guy he’s replacing. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to Jay Leno and extend Jay our sincerest thanks for an unparalleled run.” Stressing how Leno “always has been a gentleman”, Greenblatt added, “He took great care of the franchise and for that we’ll always be grateful.”
Neither Leno nor Fallon were in the upfront audience. Instead there was a taped ‘Special Message from Jimmy and Jay’ telling advertisers to “get ready for the biggest season in late night yet: the final season with Jay Leno” and introducing Fallon. “Hey guys, I’m so thrilled and honored to be taking over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Any questions, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t want to make a big deal about the whole Tonight Show thing. It’s still 8 months away.”
With that, Fallon put on a headset and began to sing a sequel to the West Side Story song he and Leno warbled recently – this time, a Les Miserables tune with parody lyrics that included:
Fallon: He’s really going to leave this time.
Leno: I pass the torch to my friend Jimmy. But NBC will be just fine. Who knows, they might beat Univision.
Fallon: Robert Greenblatt makes good decisions.
Leno: What about Ready For Love [a reality flop that aired for 2 seconds]? I’ll spend all day in my garage.
Meanwhile, Meyers was in the NBC upfront audience, obviously unaware he’d be shown on camera live and looking awkward. “That was one of our better choreographed cast cutaways,” Greenblatt deadpanned, calling Meyers “one of the brightest, funniest, and most original voices of his generation” and emphasizing that Late Night would continue “under the watchful eye of Lorne Michaels”. Unscripted and late night czar Paul Telegdy stressed how “very important” late night is to NBC and hyped Michaels by praising his Saturday Night Live “legacy which shows no signs of flagging and remains relevant, topical and cutting edge.”