Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno: NBC replaces Tonight Show star with Late Night host in spring of 2014

(CNN) -- On Wednesday, Jay Leno confirmed the rampant reports that he's once again departing "The Tonight Show," presumably for good this time.

He'll wrap up his 22-year run as host in spring 2014, with Jimmy Fallon officially signing on as his replacement.

"Congratulations Jimmy," Leno 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."

According to a statement from NBC, "As part of the transition, 'The Tonight Show' will be returning to its original home in 30 Rock in New York" from Leno's base of Los Angeles.

The expectation that he would leave NBC's legendary late-night program has been building recently. NBC execs told The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times in early March that Leno was going to be out and someone else, most likely "Late Night" host Fallon, was going to be in.

With Leno's contract set to expire in fall 2014, industry observers said, the move was only a matter of time.

Leno first exited "Tonight" in 2009 after 17 years as host, passing the torch to Conan O'Brien, who was then the host of "Late Night."

Leno was moved to prime time with his own program, "The Jay Leno Show," in the fall of 2009. But when that brought dismal ratings, NBC decided to put Leno back in charge of "Tonight" at the start of 2010, leaving O'Brien without a job.

The flame-haired comedian eventually moved to TBS to host his own show, "Conan," in the 11 p.m. hour, but the entire scenario generated ill will toward Leno and NBC. (TBS shares a parent company with CNN.)

Yet as the years went on, Leno has proved to be resilient. As NBC's prime-time ratings suffered, Leno's "Tonight Show" was still able to rise above the rest in its time slot.

However, NBC was said to be concerned about losing younger viewers to ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, whose "Jimmy Kimmel Live" was moved up to compete with Leno and David Letterman's "Late Show" at the beginning of 2013.

"The more time Jimmy Kimmel is in that slot, the more the young audience goes that way, the harder it is for (Fallon) to keep that audience," one source familiar with the network's thought process told The Hollywood Reporter in March.

At 62 years old, Leno represents a more traditional form of hosting, as he's known for his "Las Vegas-style comedy," said the Times. Fallon, 38, regularly incorporates the Web and social media into his act, offering "a more contemporary and varied brand of entertainment," the Times said.

This changing of the guard is one of the most closely watched exercises in pop culture, especially as it takes place at one of TV's mainstay productions. Even with its decline in ratings over the years, it remains a solid profit center for NBC, making between $25 million and $40 million for the network, according to The New York Times. And though it's been on the air for almost 60 years, "The Tonight Show" has had just a handful of regular hosts: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Leno and O'Brien.

Fallon has a big stage to fill.

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NBC STATEMENT:

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – April 3, 2012 – Jay Leno, longtime host of NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," announced today that he will wrap up what will be 22 years of headlining the iconic late-night show in Spring 2014.  NBC also announced today that Jimmy Fallon, now host of NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," will transition into new hosting duties on "The Tonight Show" franchise after Leno concludes his successful run.  

As part of the transition, "The Tonight Show" will be returning to its original home in 30 Rock in New York and will be executive-produced by Emmy Award winner Lorne Michaels ("Saturday Night Live," "30 Rock").

Programming plans for the 12:35 a.m. (ET) time period currently are in development and will be announced soon.

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."

Said Fallon: "I'm really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow."

"Jay Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years," said Steve Burke, Chief Executive Officer of NBCUniversal. "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. 

"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.

"I also want to congratulate and thank Debbie Vickers and her ‘Tonight Show' team for producing an entertaining, first-class show every night for the past two decades.  Debbie's role in the creative and popular success of this franchise cannot be overstated." 

Leno has hosted "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" since taking over the reins from television icon Johnny Carson in 1992.

"The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" has ranked #1 ahead of its ABC and CBS time-period competition in 18-49 viewers and total viewers for each season since Leno's return in March 2010 and for the 14 seasons before his departure in May 2009.  During the current season, "Tonight" is consistently #1 versus its ABC and CBS slot rivals, averaging a 0.8 rating, 3 share in adults 18-49 and 3.5 million viewers overall.

At 12:35 a.m. ET, "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" has consistently ranked #1 in 18-49 versus the time period's ABC and CBS competition each season since debuting in March of 2009 and has also held the advantage over CBS's "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" in total viewers for the last three seasons.  So far during the 2012-13 season, "Late Night" is averaging a 0.5 rating, 3 share in adults 18-49 and 1.7 million viewers overall.

Before Leno became the host of the top-rated "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," he honed his comedy in clubs all over the country often exceeding 300 dates per year.  He opened for the likes of Tom Jones and John Denver and after moving to Los Angeles began his career in television and film, both writing behind the scenes and making appearances in shows such as "Welcome Back Kotter" and films including "American Hot Wax."  On March 2, 1977, Leno made his first appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and was named permanent guest host in 1987.  While he took over the desk full-time in 1992, Leno never stopped touring on the comedy circuit and still averages over 150 gigs a year.

Emmy and Grammy Award winner, Fallon began his TV career with "Saturday Night Live" in 1998, where he quickly became an audience favorite.  Known for his spot-on impressions, innovative musical and comedy sketches and his stint as co-anchor of "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey, Fallon spent six successful years on the show.  In March 2009, Fallon returned to NBC and took over the late- night legacy with "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."  The show has continued to garner attention for its viral videos, audience games, A-list guests, and Fallon's choice of critically acclaimed house-band, The Roots.

In just four years on air, Fallon and the "Late Night" team have already begun collecting awards.  Most recently, Fallon was honored with his second consecutive People's Choice Award for Favorite Late Night Host (2012 and 2013) and the show received the 2012 Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Talk Show.  "Late Night" was celebrated with a 2012 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Variety Series and earned three Emmy nominations in 2011, including the show's first nominations in the series and writing categories.  The year prior, Fallon earned an Emmy for the show's website in the Interactive Media category and received the "Webby Person of the Year" Award in 2009.  Fallon received a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album after releasing "Blow Your Pants Off" in 2012, a musical comedy album featuring song parodies written and performed on "Late Night."


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