Leno to leave NBC's 'Tonight Show' next year
FILE - This Jan. 13, 2013 file photo shows Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," left, and Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. NBC announced Wednesday, April 3, 2013 that Jimmy Fallon is replacing Jay Leno as the host of "The Tonight Show" in spring 2014. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, file)
NEW YORK, N.Y. - NBC announced a rare but rumoured change in the longest-running U.S. late-night show, replacing Jay Leno at "Tonight" with Jimmy Fallon and moving the iconic franchise back to New York City.
Fallon will take over the talk show in about a year, the switch coinciding with NBC's Winter Olympics coverage. Veteran "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels 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" 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.
Fallon said: "I'm really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow."
Later, Leno couldn't resist a jab at NBC in his monologue Wednesday, even as he as he praised 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."
NBC has been quietly building a new studio for Fallon at its New York headquarters. "Tonight" began in New York in the 1950s, but Carson moved it to California in 1972. Starting next year, Fallon, Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will tape late-night shows in New York. ABC's Jimmy Kimmel and TNT's Conan O'Brien will be the top California-based shows.
While a storied part of television tradition, the network late-night shows find themselves with much more competition now with cable programs like "Adult Swim" and smaller talk shows hosted by the Comedy Central duo of Stewart and Colbert.
NBC is worried that ABC's Kimmel will establish himself as a go-to late night performer for a younger generation if the network doesn't move swiftly to install Fallon. ABC moved Kimmel's time slot to directly compete with Leno earlier this year.
But the move also has the potential to backfire with Leno's fans, who did not embrace O'Brien when Leno was temporarily moved to prime time a few years ago.
"The guys at NBC are not totally stupid and are not going to shoot themselves in the foot," said Gary Carr, senior vice-president and executive director of national broadcast for the ad buying firm TargetCast. "I think it's a good move for them long-term. But it may have short-term ramifications."
The Leno-Fallon changeover didn't begin smoothly. Leno had been cracking jokes about NBC's prime-time futility, angering NBC entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt, who sent a note to Leno telling him to cool it. That only made Leno go after NBC management much harder.
The first public effort toward making the transition smooth came Monday night, when Leno and Fallon appeared in a video making fun of the late-night rumours with a song playing off "Tonight" from "West Side Story."
Associated Press television writers Lynn Elber in Los Angeles and Frazier Moore in New York contributed to this report.
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