Jay Leno will reportedly receive a $15 million payoff as he steps down as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show months ahead of the end of his contract.
The payout is part of Jay Leno’s deal to leave The Tonight Show – which he has hosted for 22 years – before his contract expires in September 2014, making way for Jimmy Fallon as the new host.
According to the New York Daily News, the payoff – which equates to Jay Leno’s annual salary on the show – is peanuts for the comedian, who makes the biggest bucks for standup in Las Vegas.
As the shake-up was confirmed after weeks of speculation, Jay Leno told Jimmy Fallon he was “counting on” him to keep network ratings high.
In his opening monologue of Wednesday’s show Jay Leno said: “I just have one request of Jimmy. We’ve all fought, kicked and scratched to get this network up to fifth place, okay?
“Now we have to keep it there. Jimmy don’t let it slip into sixth. We’re counting on you.”
The replacement move, which had been anticipated for weeks, was announced yesterday and will officially take place following NBC’s broadcast of the Winter Olympics.
Jimmy Fallon will more than double his multi-million dollar salary when he takes over from outgoing host Jay Leno next year on The Tonight Show.
Industry insiders predict that Jimmy Fallon will see the $5 million he gets for fronting The Late Show boosted to $12 million when he goes head-to-head with CBS’ David Letterman and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel in February.
Although Jimmy Fallon’s pay packet will be 3 million less than the $15 million Jay Leno takes home, it still represents a massive show of faith in Fallon, who has been working late night television for less than 5 years.
Jay Leno 62, who was temporarily removed from The Tonight Show in 2009 in favor of Conan O’Brien, had made repeated jokes about his bosses and the network in recent weeks while rumors swirled over the latest move.
But he and Jimmy Fallon, 38, presented a united front while announcing the news. They recently made a parody video set to a tune from West Side Story that lampooned their situation.
“The main difference between this and the other time is I’m part of the process. The last time the decision was made without me. I came into work one day and – you’re out,” Jay Leno said, comparing his previous ouster and now.
“This time around there really aren’t any complications like there were the last time,” he added, according to the New York Times.
“This time it feels right.”
Jay Leno also said in a press release: “Congratulations Jimmy. 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.”
The Tonight Show will be relocated from Los Angeles to New York, where the program started in 1954 when Steve Allen was its host.
Jay Leno – aside from the brief interruption when Conan O’Brien hosted the program – has been the show’s presenter since 1992.
He has routinely been tops in the ratings, even as NBC’s primetime and daytime programming has fallen off.
“I’m glad I’ve kept it No. 1,” Jay Leno said.
“When I started people said, <<Oh the only reason you’re winning is because of ‘ER>>, or <<The only reason you’re winning is because Hugh Grant came on and said that one thing>>. Well, at least now I can say the only reason we’re winning is cause we’re winning.”
After leaving, Jay Leno said he expects to be “back on the road, being a comedian again”.
Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who also produces Late Night, will take over as producer of the new Tonight Show.
Jimmy Fallon’s replacement at 12:35 a.m. was not named, although Seth Meyers of SNL is considered a strong candidate.
NBC is worried that ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, whose show recently started at the 11:35 p.m. time slot, will establish himself as a go-to late night performer for a younger generation if the network didn’t move swiftly to install Jimmy Fallon.