Updated 1:20 p.m. ET
NBC on Wednesday made its Tonight Show transition
plans official, announcing Jay Leno would give up the reins to the franchise in
spring 2014 with Late Night host Jimmy Fallon succeeding him. The
storied show will move from Burbank, Calif., to New York City with the shift,
timed to the network's coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels will take
over as executive producer of The Tonight Show under Fallon, which will
film at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Plans for Late Night's 12:35 a.m. slot are
in development and will be announced soon, NBC said.
"We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1,
just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1," said NBCUniversal CEO
Steve Burke in a statement. "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."
The announcement ends weeks of speculation on the future of
the late night franchise, much of which has played out publicly. On Monday, Leno
and Fallon filmed a video addressing the rumors that featured the two hosts
singing "Tonight" from West Side Story and aired as a bridge between
their shows. The transition is especially sensitive for NBC given the
ultimately failed succession to Conan O'Brien back in 2009 that ended with the
network re-installing Leno after nine months and O'Brien bolting for TBS.
NBC is said to have accelerated its succession plans in
response to ABC moving Jimmy Kimmel Live to 11:35 p.m. in January, where
the 45-year-old host has made inroads with the younger audience that is most
valuable to advertisers. By shifting Fallon, who, at 38, is currently the
youngest of the late-night hosts, it hopes to compete for the young demo before
ABC has a chance to lock up the audience.
Leno, however, still ranks No. 1 in both total viewers and
adults 18-49, as he has since he returned in March 2010, and for 14 years
before his 2009 departure. Season to date, Tonight is averaging a 0.8
rating in the demo and 3.5 million viewers. CBS' Late Show with David
Letterman averages a 0.7 rating and 3.1 million viewers while Kimmel
averages a 0.7 and 2.6 million viewers.
Given those ratings, NBC's decision to transition its late-night
franchise is seen as risky by many in the industry considering the network's
poor performance in primetime (it ranked fifth during the February sweep) and
the valuable Today's show's slip to No. 2 in the mornings.
Leno has hosted The Tonight Show since 1992, when he
won the battle to succeed Johnny Carson with Letterman, who defected to CBS.
Fallon has hosted Late Night since taking over for O'Brien in March
2009, where his show ranks No. 1 with a 0.5 rating with adults 18-49 and 1.7
million viewers over CBS' Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which
draws a 0.4 rating and 1.5 million viewers.