NEW YORK — NBC on Wednesday announced its long-rumored switch in late night, replacing Jay Leno at “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon and moving the iconic franchise back to New York.
Fallon will take over in about a year, the switch coinciding with NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage next February. Veteran ‘‘Saturday Night Live’’ producer Lorne Michaels will take over as executive producer of ‘‘Tonight.”
NBC made no announcement on who would replace Fallon in the
12:35 a.m. ‘‘Late Night’’ slot, although Seth Meyers of ‘‘SNL” is considered a strong candidate.
The change at ‘‘Tonight,’’ the longest-running and most popular late-night talk show, had been widely reported but not confirmed by the network until Wednesday. NBC reportedly just wrapped up negotiations with Fallon on a contract extension.
Steve Burke, chief executive officer of NBC Universal, said the network is purposefully making the move when Leno is still at the top of the ratings, just as when Leno replaced Johnny Carson at ‘‘Tonight’’ in 1992.
‘‘Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time,’’ Burke said.
Leno, in a statement, offered his congratulations to Fallon.
‘‘I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy,’’ he said. ‘‘If you need me, I’ll be at the garage.’’
Fallon said: ‘‘I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.’’
NBC has been quietly building a new studio for Fallon at its Rockefeller Center headquarters. ‘‘Tonight’’ began in New York in the 1950s, but Carson moved it to California in 1972. Starting next year, Fallon, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert will tape late-night shows in New York. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and TNT’s Conan O’Brien will be the top California-based shows.
While a storied part of television tradition, the network late-night shows find themselves with much more competition now with cable programs like ‘‘Adult Swim,’’ smaller talk shows hosted by the Comedy Central duo of Stewart and Colbert, Chelsea Handler, and a device: Many people take that time to watch programs they taped earlier on their DVRs.
NBC is worried that ABC’s Kimmel will establish himself as a go-to late-night performer for a younger generation if the network doesn’t move swiftly to install Fallon. ABC moved Kimmel’s time slot to directly compete with Leno earlier this year.
NBC has long prided itself on smooth transitions but that reputation took a hit with the short-lived and ill-fated move of O’Brien to ‘‘Tonight’’ and Leno to prime-time a few years ago.
The Leno-Fallon changeover didn’t begin smoothly. Leno had been cracking jokes about NBC’s prime-time futility, angering NBC entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt.
The first public effort toward making the transition smooth came Monday night, when Leno and Fallon appeared in a comic video making fun of the late-night rumors. It aired in between each man’s show.