Jay Leno, longtime host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” will step down early next year and be replaced by Jimmy Fallon, as the network seeks younger viewers for the most-popular late-night program.
As part of the transition in spring 2014, “The Tonight Show” will be returning to New York from Los Angeles, Comcast Corp.’s NBC said today in an e-mailed statement. Lorne Michaels will be executive producer.
The announcement, expected after NBC designated Fallon as Leno’s heir, marks a changing of the guard at the most-watched show in late-night television. Leno, 62, who had been critical of NBC management recently as stories surfaced of an imminent change, said he supported the transition.
“Congratulations Jimmy,” Leno, the show’s host for 22 years, said in the statement. “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.”
Fallon will help “The Tonight Show” attract a more Web-savvy audience, according to Brad Adgate, head of research for Horizon Media, a New York-based media services company. Its clients include Geico Corp. and Capital One Financial Corp., which runs ads featuring actor Alec Baldwin.
“There’s going to be a different vibe on the show,” Adgate said in an interview. “Fallon’s stuff is made for online viewing the next day. Younger viewers can watch short snippets of the show instead of the full hour. It will be a different look and feel.”
“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” has drawn the most 18-to-49-year-old viewers, the audience advertisers target, in its 12:35 a.m. time slot since he began hosting the show in March 2009, according to Nielsen data from NBC. This season, the show is averaging 1.7 million viewers a night in total.
“I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow,” Fallon, 38, said in the statement.
Leno and Fallon appeared together on “The Tonight Show” April 1 in a musical comedy highlighting their situation. The New York Times reported yesterday that Fallon had signed a new contract with the network.
Advertising revenue for the most-watched late-night talk shows, “The Tonight Show” and the “Late Show With David Letterman” has fallen by about a third since 2007, according to WPP Plc’s Kantar Media unit. Leno had 2012 ad sales of $146.1 million, while Letterman generated $143.4 million.
The declines have coincided with shrinking audiences for the veteran entertainers and increases in viewing for alternatives including “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.”
Comcast, based in Philadelphia, fell 1.1 percent to $41.82 at the close in New York. Shares of the largest U.S. cable company have gained 12 percent this year.
“The Tonight Show” has outdrawn ABC and CBS in 18-to-49 and total viewers since March 2010, when Leno returned after being replaced by Conan O’Brien, and led for the 14 seasons before his departure in May 2009, NBC said.
The program is averaging 3.5 million viewers this season, the network said.
“We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1,” NBC Universal’s chief executive officer, Steve Burke, said in the statement. “Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time.”