Ending weeks of gossip, NBC made the announcement that current host Jay Leno would end his hosting tenure next spring. Though Leno still is the most-watched late-night TV host, his hold on the coveted 18-49 bracket is tenuous. ABC this year moved its late-night show "Jimmy Kimmel Live" from after 11:35 p.m. to 10:35 p.m. as his direct competition, and Kimmel has taken a narrow lead in viewers 18-34.
Fallon, like Kimmel, is perceived to appeal to a younger audience than the middle-of-the-road Leno. Both Jimmys have embraced social media and the web as a whole, and both do edgier comedy bits than Leno. NBC is making the move because it thinks Fallon will better challenge Kimmel for younger viewers in the years to come.
"We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1," NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke stated in an NBC press release. "Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time."
A new host is not the only big change for "Tonight." Fallon won't have to switch coasts for his new gig. NBC plans to relocate the show from L.A. to New York City, a reversal of the move Johnny Carson made from New York to L.A. more than 40 years ago. Fallon's current show, "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," is recorded at 30 Rockefeller Center.
Lorne Michaels, executive producer of "Late Night," will assume those duties for "The Tonight Show." Michaels also produces "Saturday Night Live," which launched Fallon's national career in 1998.
"I'm really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow," Fallon, 38, said in the release.
After the NBC announcement, Fallon heard from his future competition Kimmel in a Twitter message. "congratulations to my dear, sweet @jimmyfallon," Kimmel tweeted. "a formidable rival and an incredible lover"
Leno, 62, has
hosted "Tonight" for 22 years, minus a brief interruption during the 2009-10 TV season when he was replaced by Conan O'Brien in a public relations and ratings disaster for NBC.
The network had been planning for five years to give "Tonight" to O'Brien. To make room for him, Leno was moved to a prime time talk show. When his show didn't catch on, he suggested he would be willing to return to the 10:35 p.m. timeslot. After nine weeks, O'Brien left NBC rather than accept a move to 11:05 p.m.
Two decades ago, NBC lost David Letterman to CBS after a dispute over whether he or Leno would inherit "Tonight" from Carson. O'Brien since has moved to TBS and made a success of his own show, "Conan," which the network this week renewed through November 2015.
Over the past several weeks, Leno has sparked speculation that he was on the way out, particularly when he mocked NBC executives on "Tonight."
"You know the whole legend of St. Patrick, right?" he cracked. "St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland--and then they came to the United States and became NBC executives."
Despite jokes like that, things seem to be going more smoothly with the current transition--at least between the two hosts. On Monday night's "Late Night," they sang a duet that poked fun at the speculation surrounding their shows.
Although NBC hasn't set an exact date for Fallon to start hosting "Tonight," Burke said in the release that it will be in conjunction with NBC's coverage of next year's Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia.
The network also said programming plans for Fallon's current 11:35 p.m. time slot would be announced soon, which could mean the network may drop "Late Night" altogether--or change it--and do something different. It's all very mysterious.Fallon, who will be the sixth host of "Tonight," will take over the show as it enters its 60th year. Steve Allen was the host of the show when it debuted in 1954; then Jack Paar took over. Carson, the longest-serving host, led the show from 1962 to 1992.
Leno, who succeeded Carson in 1992, congratulated Fallon in the NBC release, adding, "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."
He was referring to his love of cars. And he's still not funny.
Tribune wire services contributed.
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