NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke explained that the timing is intended to mesh with NBC’s broadcast of the Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia, which we swear is the truth and not a gag from an “SNL” skit.
“Saturday Night Live” impresario Lorne Michaels will become executive producer; Debbie Vickers, who has produced the show for the past two decades, will exit along with Leno. And the show will return to its original home at 30 Rock in New York, where it was based until Johnny Carson, “Tonight’s” longest-running host at 30 years, moved it to Burbank in 1972.
“We’re thrilled ‘The Tonight Show’ is returning home to New York City, and it’s the perfect symbol of incredible comeback we’ve worked to create in our city’s film and television industry,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg weighed in Wednesday, followed by a bunch of political “not since the invention of television has so much production been based in our city,” blah, blah, blah — and finally running out of gas with, “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.”
There’s no news on Fallon’s “Late Night” replacement at 12:35 a.m. NBC said coyly in its announcement that “programming plans” for the time period are in development and will be announced soon. Under consideration is the return of “The Tonight Show” to its 90-minute format. (“The Tonight Show,” which debuted in 1954, with Steve Allen as host, was cut down to one hour during Carson’s long run.)
“We are purposefully making this change when Jay is number one, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was number one,” Burke said.
There’s one big difference: Carson shocked NBC suits in 1991 when he announced his retirement at an affiliate conference in New York. That followed news reports that NBC was concerned that Carson (who was in his mid-60s) was losing younger viewers, and that NBC had guaranteed Leno the gig when Carson retired. Leno took over the show in 1992.
Leno, 62, on the other hand, is being told when to step down — again. His contract expires next year.
The other time Leno was informed that he was stepping down as “Tonight” host, it was to make way for then-“Late Night” host Conan O’Brien. NBC announced in fall 2004 that the network negotiated a contract with Conan that promised him he’d replace Leno on “Tonight” in June 2009.
In Wednesday’s announcement, NBC made no mention of Conan by name.
In May 2009, Conan interrupted Leno’s run for seven months, as NBC parked Leno at 10 p.m. weeknights, where he provided Conan with lousy lead-in ratings. Leno, you’ll recall, regained the “Tonight Show” keys after NBC decided to push the Conan-hosted show’s start time to 12:05 a.m. to squeeze Leno back into late night in some newly named half-hour late-night program.