April 3, 2013 at 12:50 PM ET
Updated 3:30 p.m. ET: It's official: Jimmy Fallon is replacing Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" in spring 2014.
"Congratulations Jimmy," Leno offered on Wednesday. "I hope you're as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you're the old guy," joked the silver-haired car aficionado. "If you need me, I'll be at the garage."
Fallon, the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member who has made a successful transition to daily TV as the current host of "Late Night," quipped about his time-slot bump from 12:35 a.m. to the 11 p.m. hour.
"I'm really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow," Fallon said.
The announcement ends weeks of speculation that there would be changes in the late night landscape, but unlike many television shakeups, this one seems poised for a smooth transition. For starters, Fallon clearly has his predecessor's blessing.
Furthermore, Fallon isn't going to have to uproot his franchise in order to take it to a "Tonight Show" stage -- the show is moving from Los Angeles to New York City. The talker will set up shop in its original home, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where Fallon currently tapes "Late Night."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cheered the news in separate press releases, citing a "surge" in production of film and television shows in the state and city. Both welcomed Fallon at the helm of "Tonight," calling him a "native son."
"The original 'Tonight Show' ushered in the modern era of television, broadcast here from New York," Cuomo said. "It is only fitting that as 'The Tonight Show' returns to our state, it will be headlined by New York's own native son and resident, Jimmy Fallon."
Fallon, 38, will also be reuniting with "Saturday Night Live's" Lorne Michaels, who will become executive producer of "The Tonight Show."
Leno, 62, has hosted the "The Tonight Show" since 1992, when he took over for Johnny Carson (with the exception of a controversial seven-month replacement by Conan O'Brien in 2009). This marks the end of an era for the comic, but it's one that will be highlighted by the rare fact that he's going out on top.
Over the years, the popular host scored interview subjects as wide-ranging as President Barack Obama (first sitting president to do late night) to actor Hugh Grant ("I did a bad thing" with Divine Brown). And his comedy skits attempted to pick up where Carson left off, most notably with his nod to goofy headlines and his man-on-the-street favorite, "Jaywalking."
The Tonight Show" is No. 1 in the ratings, and Leno's place in late-night history is cemented.
"Jay Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years," said Steve Burke, Chief Executive Officer of NBCUniversal. "His long reign as the highest-rated late-night host is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to his viewers and to NBC."
NBC said an announcement about its programming plans for the 12:35 a.m. time period will be coming "soon," but rumors are swirling that Fallon's fellow "SNL" "Weekend Update" host Seth Meyers is on deck to replace him.
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