At midnight, Jimmy Fallon will be taking up the Tonight Show torch, welcoming his first guest and new audience. His time slot will be even earlier in coming weeks, following the conclusion of the Winter Olympics, at 11:35 p.m. Eastern, compared to his slot on Late Night at 12:37. “I’m really gonna miss being on the TV at 12:37,” said Fallon in his last show before the move, adding that he will “especially miss the battle for late night ratings with my fierce rivals Craig Ferguson and a veggie chopper infomercial.”
Fallon is taking over for Jay Leno, who’s leaving the show for good this time after a couple of false alarms over the past few years. The departure is a friendly one this time around, though, with Fallon warmly congratulated by his predecessor. The two have been friends for years, and Leno shrugged off the pressure and stress of Fallon’s new position. “The people that make the best hosts are the ones who’ve actually had contact with an audience, like Jimmy. A lot of guys have come from radio or something and they do these things and they don’t have that, they don’t make that connection,” said Leno in an interview with KSDK.
Fallon joked that he’d spoken with Seinfeld recently, who had asked him if the Tonight Show job was one that he really wanted. “He goes: ‘You sure you want this? You do this ’til you die. This is a pope job,” said Fallon, jokingly. Apparently he does want it, telling KSDK: ”It doesn’t get bigger than the Tonight Show. This is the job of your lifetime.”
For Leno at least, his career won’t end with the show: He’s already scheduled an extensive stand-up tour. However, that didn’t make the last episode any less tearful. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars. It’s just been incredible. I got to work with lighting people who made me look better than I really am. … and I’m really excited for Jimmy Fallon. You know, it’s fun to kind of be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution,” said Leno, hosting his last episode after 22 years with the Tonight Show.
As for the future of the Tonight Show, Fallon has some plans. “Steve Allen was the first guy to sit in a plate of ice cream and pretend he’s a banana split and get chocolate syrup all over him and roll around, because that’s what it should be. Everyone works too hard, and we’re the first thing after your local news. You watch us and you get a good laugh, and you go to bed with a smile on your face. And that’s our job,” said Fallon. The cherry on top of his new hosting gig could well be the new set he’ll be working from, located in the 30 Rock studio where the Tonight Show began its career. “The set is gorgeous,” Fallon told KSDK. “It’s a work of art. It’s beautiful. It’s classy. It’s glamorous. Everything that New York City is.”