Leno will depart The Tonight Show in February

NBC officially fired the gun on Jay Leno’s victory lap, announcing Wednesday that the No. 1 guy in late night will step away from The Tonight Show–this time presumably for good–next February.

“JAY LENO ANNOUNCES HIS DEPARTURE FROM SUCCESSFUL 22 YEAR RUN FROM NBC’S ‘TONIGHT SHOW’ IN SPRING 2014” reads the network release headline.
Two words missing from the release: Conan O’Brien. You’d think that messy little nine month adventure never happened. O’Brien, happy to be out of the sun in L.A., quietly signed up for two more TBS seasons earlier this week.
NBC confirmed that Jimmy Fallon will be the sixth Tonight Show host and that the series will move back to New York’s 30 Rock. Lorne Michaels, Fallon’s executive producer now on Late Night, will run the new Tonight.
The release carried the usual fake quotes:
“Said Leno: ‘Congratulations, Jimmy. 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.'”
There’s been some speculation that workaholic Leno might instead park his cars over on the Fox lot. Late Shift author Bill Carter downplayed that notion Wednesday in this article in the New York Times, suggesting Leno, who will be 64 next February, will stick to his aggressive comedy club schedule.
The timing of the turnover coincides with NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The Olympic coverage gives NBC a massive promotional platform to launch Fallon’s Tonight, a suggestion Carter reports came from Leno, who could have stuck with his series until his contract ran out in September of 2014. (Leno–who famously evesdropped on NBC executives way back when he first contended for the Tonight gig, probably already knew that was the plan anyway.)
As for Leno’s long time late night foe, David Letterman, his guest tonight is Louis CK, spot on in his analysis of O’Brien’s predicament four years ago. Will they talk about this? Yes they will. Will Letterman make an announcement of his own? Who knows, but look for cordial comments and conciliation–until the smell of blood in the water gets too much for CBS.
Leno’s departure and the latest shifts in the late night landscape get the old yakkity-yak treatment on this week’s CHML podcast with Scott Thompson. You can listen in here.

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