After weeks of very public infighting and very bad jokes, NBC confirmed early Wednesday afternoon that Jimmy Fallon will take over for Jay Leno as the next host of The Tonight Show, beginning at the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympics. And according to interviews in a detailed report from the New York Times's Bill Carter breaking the story wide open, Leno insists that this is not a repeat of the Conan O'Brien affair — even after all the recent high-profile nastiness.
"There really aren't any complications like there were the last time," Leno told Carter, referring to the late night wars of 2010 and the Tonight Show host switch that wasn't. "This time it feels right." According to the Times both Leno and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke contend that they were attempting to make this a "smooth transition," despite all the bad blood so widely reported by Leno and NBC Entertainment boss Robert Greenblatt, who feuded with Leno over jokes the 21-year (plus Conan hiccup) Tonight host made about network ratings, which led to the feud taking to the airwaves and the newspapers before a Fallon transition plan started to sink in.
Leno explained to Carter that even though Burke offered him the chance to stay until the end of his contract in 2014, he turned down the offer. Leno said he told Burke: "I appreciate that, but it’s not really necessary. And I don't want to make it harder for Jimmy. I want to hand off something that’s going to make it easier." Apparently, Leno was even the one who suggested the timing of a Winter Olympics hand-off.
In NBC's statement, Burke said: "We are purposefully making this change when Jay is #1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was #1. Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time. I’m thrilled he will become the sixth host of ‘The Tonight Show’ at exactly the right moment, in conjunction with our coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia." The Olympics transition had been suspected, as the Games are a ratings boon for the network. Even so, NBC's press release reveals a discrepancy in the timeline—or maybe just a bad notion of seasons. It reads that Leno will be stepping down in Spring 2014. The Olympics end on February 23.
Despite talk of Leno going to Fox, he's indicated that he is not planning on making a return to late night. He told Carter that he expects "back on the road, being a comedian again." In a statement posted by Deadline he said that Fallon can find him "at the garage"—referring to his notable car and motorcycle collection.
Fallon's Tonight Show will be close to home for him. As previously reported Tonight will now officially be moving back to New York. Stepping in as executive producer will be Lorne Michaels, who produces Late Night and has championed Fallon since his days at Saturday Night Live.