The network announced Wednesday (April 3) that Fallon will succeed Jay Leno as the “Tonight” host in the spring of 2014. Leno is leaving the show after 22 years as host (minus the ill-fated eight-month tenure for Conan O’Brien), second only to Johnny Carson‘s 30 years as host. There’s no word yet on who will take over on “Late Night” — NBC says plans for the show are “currently in development” and will be finalized in the near future.
The change in hosts will also bring a change in location for the show. Fallon will stay in New York, bringing “Tonight” back to the Big Apple for the first time in more than 40 years. The show began there, but Carson moved it west in 1972.
Lorne Michaels, who executive produces “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” will move with Fallon to “Tonight.”
“Congratulations Jimmy,” Leno says in a statement. “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.”
Fallon jokes that he’s “really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.”
“Jay Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke says. “His long reign as the highest-rated late-night host is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to his viewers and to NBC. We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1. Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time. I’m thrilled he will become the sixth host of ‘The Tonight Show’ at exactly the right moment, in conjunction with our coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic Games.”
The official announcement comes after several weeks of heavy speculation that NBC was putting together a succession plan for “The Tonight Show” when Leno’s contract ends next year. As the news swirled, Leno took repeated shots at NBC in his monologues. Earlier this week, Leno and Fallon performed a bicoastal duet making light of the situation.
NBC will use the Winter Olympics, scheduled for Feb. 7-23, 2014, as a promotional platform to launch Fallon’s “Tonight Show” tenure. Leno’s last show will likely air in January or early February.