NBC LATE NIGHT SUCCESSION PLAN ANNOUNCED: JAY LENO TO TURN OVER 'THE TONIGHT SHOW' TO CONAN O'BRIEN IN 2009
BURBANK, Calif. -- September 27, 2004 -- In 2009, after what will then be a 17-year run as "America's Late Night Leader," Jay Leno has announced that he will turn over "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien. Leno will officially make the announcement during this evening's "Tonight Show" -- a show that also celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the late night institution.
Said Leno: "In 2009, I'll be 59 years-old and will have had this dream job for 17 years. When I signed my new contract, I felt that the timing was right to plan for my successor and there is no one more qualified than Conan. Plus, I promised Mavis I would take her out for dinner before I turned 60."
"It is a great accomplishment and testament to both Jay and Conan that we were able to all work together on a long-term plan for this important institution," said NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker. "We look forward to more years of laughs from Jay and are thrilled to have Conan's future be as part of the NBC family."
"Late night talent is a rare commodity," echoed NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. "Cultivating it and keeping it has always been a priority here and with this announcement, we couldn't be in a better place."
Conan O'Brien has signed a new contract with the network in a long-term deal that will keep him at the helm of the critically-acclaimed and top-rated "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" for the next five years and then has him taking over has host of "The Tonight Show" from Leno.
"'The Tonight Show' is one of the great franchises in television and I am thrilled to get this opportunity," said O'Brien. "I am thankful to everyone at NBC -- which has been my home for the last eleven years -- and I am particularly grateful to Jay for all the generous support and kindness he has always shown me."
Rick Ludwin, Senior Vice President, Late Night and Primetime Series, NBC Entertainment added, "Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien continue to be the most successful combination in all of late night. With today's announcement about Conan, we have locked in the future of this daypart for years to come."
"The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" continues to dominate late night and has won nine television seasons in a row, 34 consecutive sweep months and 36 consecutive quarters (including ties) with its largest 18-49 audience in three years and its largest 18-34 audience in four years.
In its eleven years on the air, "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" has dominated its time period, winning every quarter and every sweep month over that period. For the 2003-04 season, "Late Night" averaged 2.5 million viewers (nearly one million viewers ahead of its nearest competition) and won by a 71% margin among adults 18-49, its highest in five years and his adult 18-34 audience was "Late Night's" biggest in six years.
On its 50th Anniversary, "The Tonight Show" continues to be the most dominant late night institution in television history. Since it first premiered on September 27, 1954 with Steve Allen, "The Tonight Show" has had just four permanent hosts, including Jay Leno. Allen, host of the then titled "Tonight," eventually left late night to start his own primetime variety series on NBC. Jack Paar premiered on July 29, 1957. On October 1, 1962, Johnny Carson stepped on stage for day one of his nearly thirty-year tenure as host of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Jay Leno, who began guest-hosting "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" in September 1987, became host of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on May 25, 1992. Conan O'Brien joined NBC as a writer on "Saturday Night Live" in 1988 and premiered as host of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" on September 13, 1993.