After weeks of rumors and buzz, NBC finally made it official: Jimmy Fallon will graduate from hosting "Late Night" to "The Tonight Show" in 2014. He replaces longtime host Jay Leno, whose contract is up next spring.
"I'm really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow," Fallon said in the press release.
After 22 years, Leno leaves while his "Tonight Show" still tops late-night ratings.
"Jay Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years," said Steve Burke, chief executive officer of NBCUniversal. "We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1."
While Leno is still king of late night, NBC hopes the younger Fallon can attract more viewers in the key, advertiser-friendly 18-49 demo.
In the release, Leno struck a friendly tone, in keeping with the vibe the two hosts gave off in their recent "Tonight" song duet.
"Congratulations, Jimmy. I hope you're as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you're the old guy," Leno said. "If you need me, I'll be at the garage."
Still, it remains to be seen if this transition will be a smooth one or if will blow up like Leno's hand-off to Conan O'Brien in 2009. In that tumultuous chapter of the long "Tonight Show" saga, "Late Night" host O'Brien took over from Leno after five years of waiting. Leno wasn't happy to be giving up his seat, and NBC scrambled to give him a primetime show to prevent him from jumping to another network. But when O'Brien's "Tonight Show" ratings sagged and Leno's primetime show went down in flames, NBC ended up returning Leno to his gig. A furious O'Brien left to create a new late-night show on TBS.
This time, it seems like the hosting change will stick. Not only is NBC handing over producing duties to Lorne Michaels, the man in charge of "Late Night" and "Saturday Night Live," it's moving the show back to its original city of New York for Fallon.
While exact timing is vague, NBC is likely to attempt the transition during the Winter Olympics broadcast next February and use increased ratings and attention to launch Fallon's "Tonight Show."
As for who might fill Fallon's shoes at "Late Night," several names have been thrown around. Rumors have swirled around Howard Stern, as well as Seth Meyers, who has the advantage of working with Michaels on "SNL."
Leno and Fallon's duet addressing the "Tonight" hosting rumors: