Jimmy Fallon inherits The Tonight Show crown Feb. 17, as only the sixth host in its nearly 60-year history, with Will Smith and U2 as his first guests. But in contrast to the rocky 2009 transition, when Conan O'Brien (briefly) inherited Leno's job five years after he'd been promised it, Fallon says he made sure to handle things differently.
"After the whole Conan-Jay thing went down, I called up Jay and said, 'I'm not gunning for your position at all, I'm happy at 12:37 a.m. I'm here, in New York, trying to have a baby,'" Fallon, 39, told TV critics Sunday.
"He goes, 'Yeah, I appreciate that.' And I said, 'When you decide to step down, let's try it the right way. We talk to each other every couple of weeks, always giving me advice, even up to now, and he called me and said, 'I think it's going to be the year.'"
It was actually NBC that made that call, ushering in a new generation of Fallon and Seth Meyers, who'll replace Fallon on Late Night. But Fallon's new show won't be appreciably different than it is now, despite the earlier hour. He'll have a mix of comedy, music, guests and sketches that combine them all, such as Tom Cruise's "egg Russian roulette" and Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run duet with Fallon, with lyrics rewritten to lampoon New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"The engine of the show, 95% of it, will be the same," though "we may get more exalted guests or politicians with gravitas," says executive producer Josh Lieb, a veteran of The Daily Show, who says there isn't much difference between an 11:30 show and one at 12:30.
One big change: Fallon wanted his show to remain in New York, a city it left when Carson moved west in 1972. Keeping it there "wasn't easy" to sell to NBC brass, "but it's been out here for 40-something years…I think it's a perfect place, where it should be." (He promises to visit Los Angeles a couple weeks each year).
Fallon says his ascension is "surreal, and it's an honor" to inherit Carson's former studio, 6B in Rockefeller Center, that Jack Paar had before him. "You can feel the vibes."
What will Leno do now? That's been the source of much speculation, and NBC would like to keep him around in some form. "Maybe he could be a new detective on The Blacklist," Fallon says.