With NBC finally confirming that Jay Leno will step down as host of The Tonight Show next year, the late-night host addressed the news in his monologue Wednesday night.
“Folks, I got to be honest with you, I had a really awkward day today,” Leno said. “I had to call David Letterman and tell him he didn’t get The Tonight Show again. Awful! Terrible!”
Letterman actually took on the succession news on his CBS Late Show too, chiding NBC for getting rid of Leno, who’s been his late-night rival for 22 years. NBC’s Late Night host Jimmy Fallon will take over Tonight and the show will return to New York City.
Continued Leno: “I want to congratulate our good friend Jimmy Fallon. He is a hell of a guy! He’s going to do a great job. 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. We are counting on you!”
To be fair, NBC is actually ranked third for the season in primetime, with Tonight ranked No. 1 in late night. During February sweeps, NBC’s primetime fell to rank behind the other Big Four networks and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, prompting a string of Leno jokes in recent weeks about NBC being in fifth place. Still, the joke has some teeth since The Tonight Show losing ground in the ratings is exactly what some industry insiders suspect might happen under the new host.
Over on Fallon’s Late Nite, the host thanked his team, as well as Leno for “being so gracious.”
“Things move so quickly,” Leno added. “Jimmy hasn’t even taken over yet and the rumors have already started … Like NBC says in five years they play to replace Jimmy with Justin Bieber. They are moving too quickly!”
And finally: “Today I accepted a new position; I am going to be the head basketball coach at Rutgers University! Thank you very much!”
UPDATE: Is David Letterman next?