It's final: Jimmy Fallon to replace Jay Leno on NBC's 'Tonight'

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2013After weeks of rumors and hints and a good bit of Three Stooges-style eyeball poking between NBC and the network’s late-night king, Tonight Show host Jay Leno, the network finally announced Wednesday what’s already become obvious: Jimmy Fallon will be replacing Leno next spring and moving the durable show back to New York City.

Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host with wife Jayne Meadows. (Wikimedia)

Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host with wife Jayne Meadows. (Wikimedia)

The show actually began as a local New York telecast in 1953 with Steve Allen as host and was launched nationally by NBC the following year under its current name.

Allen was eventually succeeded by the quirky Jack Paar who, in turn, was followed by the durable and popular Johnny Carson. Carson ultimately helped spirit the show away to Burbank in 1972. Leno replaced Carson in 1992.

Jack Paar interviewing presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1959. (Public domain)

Fallon’s move, intentionally or not, will roughly coincide with NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage. The revamped, relocated show will fall under the purvey of “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) producer Lorne Michaels who will become “Tonight’s” executive producer, a role he had reportedly long desired.

Fallon’s rumored replacement on his current “Late Night” TV gig could be SNL’s Seth Meyers. However, this has not yet been confirmed by the network.

“Tonight Show” dynasty turnovers have not always been pleasant. After 30 years of service and perennially high ratings for Carson’s version of the program, the iconic host was miffed by what he considered to be both NBC’s and Leno’s bums’ rush to replace him to attract a more youthful demographic. 

Johnny Carson, iconic Tonight Show host for 30 years. (AP)

Leno, likewise, was irritated when NBC briefly muscled him out a few years back in favor of the younger Conan O’Brien. That experiment, which moved Leno to an earlier slot, was a multiple disaster for the network, which brutally dumped O’Brien and brought Leno back.

The latest Leno/Fallon pas de deux has had its awkward moments as well, with an obviously irritated Leno heaping scorn on his frequently inept network whose overall ratings have remained mired in the cellar in recent years. Things at the network haven’t been helped by another controversial move in its equally long-running morning “Today” show due to Matt Lauer’s and casually brutal axing of co-host Ann Curry. Ratings have tanked since then and NBC is struggling to recover the vitality of that franchise as well. 

Similar to the Lauer-Curry flap, the Leno transition was fumbled by NBC management as well, as rumors of the move began to build as if orchestrated by insiders to pressure the still very popular late night host. Leno paid the network chiefs back by escalating his already snarky NBC critics during his show-opening monologues.   

The first hint of a thaw came on Monday when both Leno’s and Fallon’s shows aired the same pre-taped skit during which each host made light of the escalating rumors of a transition at NBC.

Tuesday’s edition of “Tonight” proved Leno still hasn’t lost his edge. His sharp jab at AP’s latest move toward politically correct speech appears in the brief video below.

     —AP contributed to this report

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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