UPDATED WRITETHRU: After months of speculation, a slew of news stories, a ton of late-night jokes and a Jay Leno–Jimmy Fallon duet, NBC has set a date for Leno’s departure from The Tonight Show and officially anointed Fallon as the new host of the venerable late-night franchise. Leno will depart in spring 2014 after 22 years. The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon will be based in New York, where the show originated, and be set at the 30 Rock studio that now houses Fallon’s Late Night; the studio is undergoing renovation that is slated to be completed in 2014 in time for the Tonight Show relaunch. The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon will be executive produced by Lorne Michaels, marking the first time the Saturday Night Live and Late Night executive producer has been in charge of NBC’s flagship late-night show.
The timing of the Leno-Fallon changeover mirrors the events of 2009, when Leno handed The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien in late May. This time around, the transition will be earlier (likely in February), taking advantage of NBC’s broadcast of the Sochi Winter Olympics, something NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke alluded to in today’s announcement (see it below). Ironically, NBC used the previous Winter Olympics in 2010 as a launching pad for Leno’s return to The Tonight Show after a nine-month hiatus. “Congratulations Jimmy,” Leno said today, keeping with the friendly relationship he and Fallon had been projecting. “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.” Said Fallon: “I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.”
Like the first time he was pushed out of The Tonight Show, Leno will likely leave while on top, as Tonight Show has consistently been ranking as the No. 1 late-night program despite NBC’s woeful primetime ratings in the first quarter. As for Late Night, Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers has been in discussions to replace Fallon when he moves to 11:30 PM and appears on track to succeed him. Both Fallon and Meyers honed their skills behind the anchor desk of SNL‘s Weekend Update. Michaels will remain as executive producer of SNL in addition to his exec producer duties on Tonight and will likely also stay on as exec producer of Late Night, especially if Meyers closes a deal as host.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of Fallon signing a new deal with NBC. Leno’s contract with the network is up in September 2014. Here’s NBC’s release: (more…)