NEW YORK — NBC on Wednesday announced its long-rumored switch in late night, replacing Jay Leno at the “Tonight” show with Jimmy Fallon and moving the iconic franchise back to New York.
Fallon will take over in about a year, the switch coinciding with NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage next year. Veteran “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels also will take over as executive producer of “Tonight.”
NBC made no announcement on who would replace Fallon at the 12:35 a.m. “Late Night” slot, although Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live” is considered a strong candidate.
The change at “Tonight,” the longest-running and most popular late-night talk show, had been widely reported but not confirmed by the network until Wednesday. NBC reportedly just wrapped up negotiations with Fallon on a contract extension.
Steve Burke, chief executive officer of NBC Universal, said the network is purposefully making the move when Leno is still at the top of the ratings, just as when Leno replaced Johnny Carson at “Tonight” in 1992.
“Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time,” Burke said.
Leno, in a statement, offered his congratulations to Fallon.
“I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy,” he said. “If you need me, I’ll be at the garage.”
Fallon said: “I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.”
NBC has been quietly building a new studio for Fallon at its Rockefeller Center headquarters. “Tonight” began in New York in the 1950s, but Carson moved it to California in 1972. Starting next year, Fallon, Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will tape late-night shows in New York. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and TNT’s Conan O’Brien will be the top California-based shows.
While a storied part of television tradition, the network late-night shows find themselves with much more competition now with cable programs such as “Adult Swim,” smaller talk shows hosted by the Comedy Central duo of Stewart and Colbert, Chelsea Handler and a device — a large number of people take that time to watch programs they had taped earlier on their DVRs.
NBC is worried that ABC’s Kimmel will establish himself as a go-to late night performer for a younger generation if the network doesn’t move swiftly to install Fallon. ABC moved Kimmel’s time slot to directly compete with Leno earlier this year.