Ending weeks of speculation, NBC Wednesday said Jay Leno will leave "The Tonight Show" next spring after a nearly 22-year run. He will be succeeded by Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
In addition, the NBC classic will move back to New York, ending a run in California that began back in 1972 when Johnny Carson decamped to Burbank.
"Congratulations, Jimmy," said Leno 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," he added, referring to the expanse that holds dozens of his cherished sports cars and motorcycles.
The move had been expected and in fact was reported by trade paper the Hollywood Reporter earlier last month, catching the network off guard. The network issued a "categorical" denial of the succession plan, but Leno began to joke about his friction with NBC on the air, while he and Fallon even performed Tuesday morning in an on-air skit -- a duet of "Tonight" from "West Side Story."
"We are purposefully making this change when Jay is number 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was number 1," said Steve Burke, NBCUniversal's chief executive. "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 from Sochi, Russia."
Leno's announced exit comes just as ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" which unseated "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. in January, has been a success, especially among younger viewers as well as among viewers who tend to consume their late-night TV via the Internet. That is not a strong suit of Leno's "Tonight," which, nonetheless, has continued to win the ratings crown over the past few months. But NBC is clearly looking at the future -- one where David Letterman may retire from CBS, and where an online presence will prove to be increasingly important.
Meanwhile, Fallon's "Tonight" will originate from 30 Rock, and will be produced by Lorne Michaels, longtime "Saturday Night Live" impresario. NBC is building a new studio for Fallon in New York that will reportedly span three stories.
The network did not say who would replace Fallon on "Late Night." "Saturday Night Live's" Seth Meyers has been rumored to be the front-runner for the job.