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EntertainmentColumnistsVerne Gay

'Tonight Show' to return to New York with host Jimmy Fallon, report says

Justin Bieber and Jimmy Fallon during a taping

Justin Bieber and Jimmy Fallon during a taping of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" at Rockefeller Center. (Feb. 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

After a 41-year absence, "The Tonight Show" is likely coming home to New York -- but don't expect the current host to return with it.

Confirming an earlier story in the Hollywood Reporter saying NBC has decided to replace Jay Leno with "Late Night's" Jimmy Fallon in 2014, The New York Times Wednesday added that he'll host out of an expanded studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where "Tonight" began Sept. 27, 1954.

NBC declined to comment, except to confirm "that the network is renovating Jimmy Fallon's studio and the theater will be a state of the art facility." Nonetheless, "Tonight's" return to New York is symbolic and a reversal of history -- painful history, for when Johnny Carson took the show west in 1972, a visible piece of the city's culture went with him.

New York-based David Letterman burnished the city's late-night glory when he moved to CBS and 11:30 p.m. in 1993, although that network initially wanted him to head west, too.

"CBS had just built three enormous new studios and I went out there and Dave said 'what do you think?' and I said it's like doing a show at NASA," recalled Hal Gurnee, the legendary director of "Late Show" who also directed Jack Paar's "Tonight Show" in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "Just acres and acres of parking and a building in the middle."

Gurnee recalled Wednesday that he later discovered that "you've got a better shot at booking a celebrity here rather than there [because] when they're in New York, they're there to sell a picture or a book or themselves and they're happy to come on the show."

But he downplayed the symbolism of returning to 30 Rock: "It meant something to us but young viewers don't even know what it is -- they're going to watch the show on their telephone anyway."

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