The Tonight Show has certainly had its fair share of drama over the past few years. In 2009, NBC ousted longtime host Jay Leno to make room for Conan O'Brien, presumably in the hopes of attracting a younger demographic. Then, just a few months later – amidst declining ratings for The Tonight Show – the network offered O'Brien a $33 million payout to leave the network, and Leno returned once more to the hosting seat of the late-night stalwart.
However, Leno's reign on The Tonight Show is coming to an end… for real this time. NBC announced in April that former Saturday Night Live funnyman (and current Late Night host) Jimmy Fallon would be Leno's successor. The choice has long been rumored, since it largely amounts to a promotion for Fallon, who has had a long-standing relationship with the network since becoming a featured player on SNL in 1998. Now we know precisely when that transition will take place.
According to Deadline, the final episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno will air on February 6, 2014. The show's current staff – which was once reported to number 170 – will still get paid through September, as part of Leno's exit deal with NBC.
The timing works out perfectly for NBC. Leno will finish up his run on the show just before the 2014 Winter Olympics begin to dominate the network's schedule, allowing viewers a couple weeks of transition before Fallon takes over on Monday, February 24. As previously reported, The Tonight Show will relocate to New York for his run, with SNL's Lorne Michaels executive producing.
With Fallon moving up to the 11:30 pm slot, his former SNL castmate Seth Meyers will take over Late Night. However, the network still reportedly hopes to keep Leno in-house in some capacity, though don't expect him to receive a prime-time talk show as he did in 2009. That little experiment ultimately led up to the awkward hosting transition that caused O'Brien to jump ship and launch a new show on TBS. It remains to be seen if Fallon will have better luck achieving success on The Tonight Show, but with Leno's long history as a ratings winner, the pressure is on Fallon to make the show his own next year.
Do you think February 2014 is the right time for Leno to bow out, and will you be watching Fallon's version of The Tonight Show? Let us know in the comments.
As mentioned above, the final episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno airs February 6, 2014 on NBC.