LOS ANGELES — The coming Jay Leno-Jimmy Fallon “Tonight” handover is the talk of the late-night TV town.
David Letterman poked fun at Leno and NBC. Leno poked fun at Letterman and NBC. Jimmy Kimmel mocked himself. Fallon played it cool. And Conan O’Brien took the high road after NBC said Wednesday that Fallon will inherit “Tonight” from Leno in 2014 — as O’Brien did in 2009, before Leno took it back.
“I want to congratulate Jimmy. That is a really fun gig,” O’Brien said on his TBS talk show, drawing laughs from the studio audience. “It is,” he said, protesting, then added, “And Jimmy is the perfect guy to do it. Congratulations, Jimmy.”
It was short and sweet. Letterman, on the other hand, made a three-course meal out of the news on CBS’ “Late Show,” starting with his monologue.
“NBC, God bless ’em, announced the official date for Jay Leno’s departure — no mention of his official date of return, however,” he said. “I happen to know Jay’s got another job on a network that has greater viewership, higher ratings: Univision.”
Then Letterman settled behind his desk for more.
“Good luck to Jay. I know he’ll be out on the road, getting it done and taking care of business. And congratulations on a nice long run there at the ‘Tonight’ show, if in fact you’re not coming back,” he said.
And there was a “things we’ll miss about Jay Leno” top 10 list, including No. 4: “Can’t remember the name of the bit, but it’s the one where Jay is walking.”
Leno, who won the “Tonight” job over Letterman in 1992, was ready with a monologue to mark the newly announced transition.
“Folks, I got to be honest with you, I had a really awkward day today. I had to call David Letterman and tell him he didn’t get the ‘Tonight’ show again,” Leno said.
Then came NBC’s turn to get jabbed.
“I just have one request for Jimmy: We’ve all fought, kicked and scratched to get this network up to fifth place. Now we have to keep it there. Jimmy, don’t let it slip into sixth!” Leno said, according to a network transcript.
Kimmel, whose move to 11:35 p.m. on ABC helped trigger the NBC switch, played it safe with a mild monologue joke about himself.
“As you probably heard ... I will take over as new host of the ‘Tonight’ show, he said, only to be interrupted by a producer’s whispered correction. “Ummm, apparently it was a different Jimmy. ... Does anyone know what the return policy is on yachts?” Kimmel asked.
Fallon, who has about a year to ponder his future promotion, was succinct.
“Welcome! This is ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ... for now,” he said. “You guys probably heard the news: I’m going to be taking over the ‘Tonight’ show next February! But don’t worry. Until February, our focus is right here on whatever this show is called.”