(NEW YORK) — After weeks of heated speculation, NBC made it official on Thursday: Jay Leno will step down from The Tonight Show when his contract expires in February, and Late Show host Jimmy Fallon will take the reins.
On Wednesday night, all of the late night hosts made mention of the switch. For Leno and Fallon, the situation — unlike the Conan O’Brien debacle in 2009 — appears to be drama-free.
Leno congratulated Fallon during Tonight’s monologue. As is typical of late, Leno also couldn’t resist a jab at NBC, advising “hell of a guy” Fallon: “We’ve all fought, kicked and scratched to get this network up to fifth place…Jimmy, don’t let it slip to sixth!”
For his part, Fallon opened his show by saying “This is Late Night with Jimmy Fallon…for now.”
After some jokes about the situation, Fallon got “a lot more emotional,” than he expected. His voice quavering, he expressed thanks to Leno, and to everybody at Late Night who helped make the transition happen. NBC plans to move the Tonight Show back to New York City for the first time since 1972.
Leno’s longtime late-night rival, David Letterman, mined The Tonight Show announcement for laughs on his CBS Late Show. He opened his monologue by asking his audience, “How many of you folks earlier today saw that white smoke coming out of the chimney at NBC?”
Letterman, who famously was passed over for The Tonight Show gig in favor of Leno following Johnny Carson’s retirement in the early 1990s, joked, “I got a call from my mom today. She says, ‘Well, David, I see you didn’t get The Tonight Show again.'”
Letterman followed up by asking, “Didn’t we just go through this? Jay Leno now is being replaced, and this is the second time this has happened. I mean, it’s crazy. He’s being replaced by a younger late-night talk show host. What could possibly go wrong?”
In 2009, O’Brien replaced Leno for what turned out to be a brief, ill-fated stint on The Tonight Show.
Despite repeatedly mocking Leno on his show through the years, Letterman congratulated him on his success and wondered, “How many times can a guy be pushed out of a job? What’s the matter with NBC? What are they thinking?”
Letterman also dedicated his Top Ten List to Leno. Here’s the full “Top Ten Things We’ll Miss About Jay Leno”:
10. “Whenever he used a headline that I sent in, I got a Tonight Show T-shirt.”
9. “Now I’m the only guy on late-night television who’s not a Jimmy.”
8. “He looks damn good in denim.”
7. “Driving one of his antique fire trucks.”
6. “Playful spats with Gelman.”
5. “If you broke down on the freeway, Jay was always there to help with a camera crew.”
4. “Can’t remember the name of the bit, but it’s the one where Jay is walking.”
3. “He’s mom’s favorite talk show host.”
2. “I won’t be able to do this anymore [does Leno impression].”
1. “Watching him interview big stars who won’t do this show.”
O’Brien acknowledged the announcement on his TBS late-night show, saying, “I want to congratulate Jimmy, that is a really fun gig. …Jimmy is the perfect guy to do it. He’s going to do a fantastic job. So congratulations Jimmy.”
Jimmy Kimmel joked about the news during the monologue of his late night ABC show by declaring, “It’s a big night in the world of late night television. As you probably heard it was announced officially today that starting in February of next year after the Olympics, I will take over as new host of The Tonight Show on NBC.”
After checking with a stage manager’s smartphone and discovering that he was not getting the job, Kimmel remarked, “Apparently it’s a different Jimmy that’s going to be hosting The Tonight Show.” He then asked if anyone in the audience knew what the return policy was on a yacht.
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