EXCLUSIVE: Jay Leno-hosted Tonight Show will air its last episode on February 6, and, per terms of his show exit deal with NBC, the cast and crew will be paid until his contract expires in September. Tonight EP Debbie Vickers made the announcement today to staffers at the show, informed sources report. It’s unclear how many crew and staff were at the meeting on the show’s Burbank lot. At one point it was reported Tonight had about 170 total staffers, including some contract workers. NBC declined comment on today’s news.
The announcement isn’t a total surprise. At NBC’s Upfront presentation to advertisers in May, the network officially announced that Jay Leno would end his 22-year run on Tonight Show during the week leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics — which start February 7. NBC also announced Jimmy Fallon would replace him on Monday, February 24, the night after the closing ceremony, followed by the debut of Late Night With Seth Meyers at 12:30 AM. Fallon’s Tonight Show will be broadcast from New York City; Lorne Michaels is exec producing, and Fallon’s Late Night writer Amy Ozols has been named producer.
Vickers’ announcement was made one week after NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt confirmed the network is having talks with Leno about “various ideas” for Leno after he ends his run on the late night show in February. “Nothing would make us happier for Jay, a la Bob Hope, to have presence at the network, we’re really hoping to do that, post February,” he told TV critics at Summer TV Press Tour 2013. Talks to replace Leno – this time – started when Greenblatt joined NBC at the beginning of 2011, Greenblatt said, adding that the timing after the 2014 Winter Olympics was decided “to give Jimmy Fallon the best chance of succeeding. We really believe in Jimmy Fallon.”
Leno has continued to dominate late night TV ratings — he clocked his biggest numbers with President Obama’s Tonight Show visit last night since his last visit to the show nine months ago. And, in his final May sweep before handing over the Tonight Show anchor desk to Fallon, Leno won the key ratings period from April 25-May 22. Tonight bettered time-slot rivals Late Show With David Letterman at CBS and Jimmy Kimmel Live at ABC in every key sales category, and matched its highest margin of victory over Letterman in the 18-49 viewers in nine years. Against Kimmel, Leno grew its 18-49 lead compared with the February sweeps from 12% to 30% in 18-49 and from 39% to 42% in total viewers. But, NBC is having no second thoughts about the transition, according to Greenblatt, who dismissed the numbers as something NBC predicted it would se when the network announced it would be Jay’s final year. “The same happened with Johnny Carson — and Jay’s previous final year,” Greenblatt said.