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Leno to leave NBC's 'Tonight Show' next spring

Thursday - 4/4/2013, 3:22am  ET

This January 2013 publicity photo released by NBC shows Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," holding a thank you note during a photo session in New York. NBC on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 announced its long-rumored switch in late night, replacing incumbent Jay Leno at "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon and moving the iconic franchise back to New York. Leno will wrap up what will be 22 years of headlining the iconic late-night show in Spring 2014. "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels will take over as producer of the new "Tonight Show." (AP Photo/NBC, Mark Seliger)

DAVID BAUDER
AP Television Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- 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 coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. 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."

Emotions were mixed among people waiting outside Leno's Burbank, Calif., studio to attend the taping of Wednesday's "Tonight" show.

"We love you, Jimmy!" said Natalie Renfro, 45, of Salt Lake City. But she gave a shout out to Leno, too: "I'll miss that big chin!"

Ryan Kelly, 39, of Los Angeles, said he's a Leno fan but added that the comedian has "had a good run. ... It's probably time for a fresh face. He's done a good job and I'm sure he'll pop up on TV somewhere else."

As for switching to Fallon, "I'll give it a shot," Kelly said.

Leno couldn't resist a jab at NBC in his monologue Wednesday, even as he as he lauded Fallon as "a hell of a guy" who is going to do a "great job."

"I just have one request for Jimmy: We've all fought, kicked and scratched to get this network up to fifth place. Now we have to keep it there. Jimmy, don't let it slip into sixth!" Leno joked, according to an NBC transcript.

Fallon took a puckish approach in his monologue.

"Welcome! This is 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ... for now," he said. "You guys probably heard the news: I'm going to be taking over the 'Tonight Show' next February! But don't worry. Until February, our focus is right here on whatever this show is called."

On his "Late Show" Wednesday on CBS, David Letterman feasted on NBC's announcement.

"Jay Leno now is being replaced, and this is the second time this has happened," he said in his monologue. "I mean, it's crazy. He's being replaced by a younger late night talk show host -- what could possibly go wrong? Honestly. They had pretty good luck with this in the past."

Later, Letterman offered a backhanded salute to Leno that wished him well with his stand-up appearances.

"But good luck to Jay. I know he'll be out on the road, getting it done and taking care of business. And congratulations on a nice long run there at the 'Tonight Show,' if, in fact, you're not coming back," Letterman said, according to a CBS transcript.

He devoted his Top 10 list to "things we'll miss about Jay Leno," including this at No. 4: "Can't remember the name of the bit, but it's the one where Jay is walking."

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 TBS's Conan O'Brien will be the top California-based shows.

"The 'Tonight' show will bring even more jobs and economic activity to our city, and we couldn't be happier that one of New York's own is bringing the show back to where it started, and where it belongs," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York state recently added a tax credit in its budget that seemed designed specifically to benefit NBC's move east with "Tonight."

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