NEW YORK (TheBlaze/AP) — NBC on Wednesday announced its long-rumored switch in late night, replacing incumbent Jay Leno at “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon and moving the iconic franchise back to New York.
“Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels will take over as producer of the new “Tonight Show.” Fallon’s replacement at 12:35 a.m. was not named, although Seth Meyers of “SNL” is considered a strong candidate.
Steve Burke, chief executive officer of NBC Universal, said the network is purposefully making the move when Leno is still at the top of the ratings, just as when Leno replaced Johnny Carson at “The Tonight Show.”
“Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time,” Burke said.
The New York Times has more on the back-story:
Tensions between the two stretch back to Mr. Leno’s first departure from “Tonight” in 2009 and the tumultuous transition to Conan O’Brien that followed. That move ended with Mr. O’Brien leaving the network after nine weeks on the show and Mr. Leno resuming his role as host.
But Mr. Leno said in an interview: “The main difference between this and the other time is I’m part of the process. The last time the decision was made without me. I came into work one day and — you’re out.” This time around “there really aren’t any complications like there were the last time,” he added. “This time it feels right.”
Leno and Fallon even sang a duet about the speculation and rumors Monday night.
“Tonight, tonight, who’s going to host ‘Tonight?’ Is it going to be Jimmy or Jay?” the hosts sang to the tune of “Tonight” from the musical “West Side Story.”
Fallon will take over in conjunction with NBC’s coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic games. The network hopes for a big audience — much larger than what it gets in prime time now — to promote the switchover.
There was reportedly concern that ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel would establish himself as a go-to late night performer for a younger generation if the network didn’t move swiftly to install Fallon. But the move also has the potential to backfire with Leno’s fans, who did not embrace Conan O’Brien when Leno was temporarily moved to prime time a few years ago.
Leno, in a statement, offered his congratulations to Fallon.
“I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy,” he said. “If you need me, I’ll be at the garage.”
Fallon said, “I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.”
This post has been updated.