After more than 20 years at the helm of The Tonight Show, Andover native Jay Leno is handing late-night hosting duties over to network counterpart Jimmy Fallon.
Ending weeks of gossip and speculation, NBC confirmed yesterday that Fallon will succeed Leno as host of “The Tonight Show” next spring, when NBC starts its coverage of the Winter Olympic Games.
Leno hosted NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” from 1992 to 2009, and again since March 2010.
In a statement, Leno congratulated Fallon and said, “I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy. If you need me, I’ll be at the garage.” Since his days in Andover, Leno has been known for his interest in automobiles.
Since graduating from Andover High School in 1968, Leno has not forgotten his roots while being an A-lister on the national stage. He often answers the call from Andover organizations and residents looking to improve the town, including help with a dedication of conservation land in 2009.
Leno’s influence also extends annually to an Andover High School graduate through the Jo-Ann Samra Marketing Award, given by Leno to a student displaying achievement in marketing.
During his first departure from “The Tonight Show” in 2009, NBC filmed a segment in his childhood romping grounds about him growing up in Andover as part of a week-long tribute to him.
Although Leno is still the most-watched late-night television host, NBC is making the move to Fallon because it thinks he will do better with younger viewers in the years to come.
“We are purposefully making this change when Jay is number 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was number 1,” NBC Universal Chief Executive Steve Burke said. “Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time.”
That isn’t to say that Fallon is replacing Leno, however.
“Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years,” Burke said. “His long reign as the highest-rated late-night host is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to his viewers and to NBC.
Fallon, currently host of NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” will take the reigns of the show in conjunction with the network’s coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic Games from Russia, according to Burke. The show will also relocate to New York City when Fallon takes over.
Said Fallon, “I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.”
This is not the first time NBC has announced a plan to replace Leno. In 2009, NBC put Conan O’Brien in as host of “The Tonight Show” only to see ratings decline. Leno quickly was reinstated as host of the franchise.