NEW YORK » NBC today 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.
The move had been widely reported but not confirmed by the network until today. 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 "The Tonight Show."
"Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time," Burke said.
Fallon will take over in conjunction with NBC’s coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic games. NBC hopes for a big audience — much larger than what it gets in prime time now — to promote the switchover.
NBC is worried that ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel will 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.
The first effort toward making that transition smooth came on Monday night, when Leno and Fallon appeared in a comic video making fun of all the late-night rumors. It aired in between each man’s show.
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."