NEW YORK (AP) — NBC on Wednesday announced its long-rumored switch in late night, replacing Jay Leno at the “Tonight” show with Jimmy Fallon and moving the iconic franchise back to New York.
Fallon will take over in about a year, the switch coinciding with NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Veteran “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels also will take over as executive producer of “Tonight.”
NBC made no announcement on who would replace Fallon at the 12:35 a.m. “Late Night” slot, although Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live” is considered a strong candidate.
The change at “Tonight,” the longest-running and most popular late-night talk show, had been widely reported but not confirmed by the network until Wednesday. NBC reportedly just wrapped up negotiations with Fallon on a contract extension.
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 “Tonight” in 1992.
“Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent, and this is his time,” Burke said.
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.”
Emotions were mixed among people waiting outside Leno’s Burbank, Calif., studio to attend the taping of Wednesday’s “Tonight” show.
“We love you, Jimmy!” said Natalie Renfro, 45, of Salt Lake City. But she gave a shout out to Leno, too: “I’ll miss that big chin!”
Ryan Kelly, 39, of Los Angeles, said he’s a Leno fan but added that the comedian has “had a good run. ... It’s probably time for a fresh face. He’s done a good job and I’m sure he’ll pop up on TV somewhere else.”
As for switching to Fallon, “I’ll give it a shot,” Kelly said.
Leno couldn’t resist a jab at NBC in his monologue Wednesday, even as he as he lauded Fallon as “a hell of a guy” who is going to do a “great job.”
“I just have one request for Jimmy: We’ve all fought, kicked and scratched to get this network up to fifth place. Now we have to keep it there. Jimmy, don’t let it slip into sixth!” Leno joked, according to an NBC transcript.
Fallon took a puckish approach in his monologue.
“Welcome! This is ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ... for now,” he said. “You guys probably heard the news: I’m going to be taking over the ‘Tonight Show’ next February! But don’t worry. Until February, our focus is right here on whatever this show is called.”
On his “Late Show” Wednesday on CBS, David Letterman feasted on NBC’s announcement.
“Jay Leno now is being replaced, and this is the second time this has happened,” he said in his monologue. “I mean, it’s crazy. He’s being replaced by a younger late night talk show host — what could possibly go wrong? Honestly. They had pretty good luck with this in the past.”
Later, Letterman offered a backhanded salute to Leno that wished him well with his stand-up appearances.