PASADENA, Calif. — NBC is preparing to remake its late-night lineup as Jay Leno exits as host of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and Jimmy Fallon begins as host of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” Monday (at 11 p.m. its first week following Olympics coverage, then moving back to its regular 10:35 p.m. time slot). At 11:30 p.m. Feb. 24, “Late Night with Seth Meyers” debuts.
Take note of that change in titles: “With Jay Leno” and “Starring Jimmy Fallon.” The word “Starring” hasn’t been used since Johnny Carson retired from “The Tonight Show” in 1992.
Fallon, 39, said he was looking through old logos from “The Tonight Show” when deciding on a new logo — he chose a full moon over a crescent moon — and he noticed the “Starring” that was used before the “With.”
“‘With’ is fine, but ‘Starring’ makes it more like, hey, we’re in the business, it’s glamorous, it’s Hollywood,” Fallon said. “It’s an homage and a tip of the cap to the show’s origins, and I thought it would be perfect.”
“‘Starring’ is a more exciting word
than ‘with,’” added incoming “Tonight Show” producer Josh Lieb.
“Late Night” house band The Roots will join Fallon on “The Tonight Show,” which will originate from New York instead of its longtime Burbank, Calif., home. Fallon was born and raised in New York, and he wanted to bring “The Tonight Show” back there after a more than 40-year absence.
Fallon’s first guest will be Will Smith and his first musical guest will be U2.
This new iteration of “The Tonight Show” will certainly mirror Fallon’s personality and style as well as that of Fallon’s “Late Night.” (The head writer of “Late Night” is moving with Fallon to “The Tonight Show.”)
“There’s no defined thing as to what ‘The Tonight Show’ is and what it isn’t,” Lieb said. “The engine is there: It’s Jimmy Fallon. There’s a real reason he was picked to host this show, and there’s a reason people enjoy the show now. It’s what we do, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Fallon said having fun will be key to the show’s success.
“I wish that Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were still around just to see what we’re going to do with the show because when they invented this show, it was all about being fun and silly and goofy,” Fallon said.
As for the more harmonious transition from Leno to Fallon compared to the previous Leno-to-Conan O’Brien transition a few years ago, Fallon said when Leno got “The Tonight Show” back, he called to let Leno know he wasn’t gunning for his job.
“When you eventually decide to step down, let’s do it the right way,” Fallon said to Leno. “It just felt different from then on. We talk to each other every few weeks. (Last year) he called me and said, ‘I think this is gonna be the year, and I’d love for you to be the next guy.’”
Regarding Leno’s future, Fallon said he’s not worried that he might end up competing against Leno if Leno moves to another network.
“Maybe he could be a new detective on ‘The Blacklist’ or something,” Fallon joked.
With Fallon taking over “The Tonight Show,” “Saturday Night Live” head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers will take over as host of “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” whose studio will be one floor above the new “Tonight Show” studio in 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Meyers, 40, said he plans to bring some elements from “Weekend Update” to “Late Night.”
“I’m drawn to the idea of making jokes about current events,” he said, adding that he brought the head writer of “Weekend Update” to his new show. “I like interviewing people who are fictional and I’d like to continue that to some degree.”
Meyers said he’ll have a separate area to interview characters to distinguish it from his interviews with real people, who will include Amy Poehler as his first guest.