The news was all about Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon, but it was David Letterman who had the most to say about it.
And why not? As he himself pointed out on his CBS “Late Show” Wednesday night, he’s known Leno as a friend and competitor for 38 years. The lives and careers of the two men are so intertwined, it’s no wonder Letterman reacted with so much emotion to the news that Leno had agreed to step down from “The Tonight Show.”
In fact, the two men both made similar jokes about Letterman not getting “The Tonight Show.”
Leno, 62, opened his own monologue Wednesday night with this joke: “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! Awful! Terrible!”
And Letterman, 65, said in his own monologue: “I got a call from my Mom today. She says, Well, David, I see you didn’t get ‘The Tonight Show’ again. What are you gonna do, Mom!”
“It seems like we just went through this. Didn’t we just go through this?” he asked, directing the question to Paul Shaffer. “Jay Leno now is being replaced and this is the second time this has happened. I mean, it’s crazy. He’s being replaced by a younger late-night talk show host. What could possibly go wrong?!”
Letterman was referring to the previous “Tonight Show” switch — in 2009 — when Conan O’Brien took over for Leno, and remained as host for just eight months until Leno returned. Now on TBS, O’Brien was among those who commented on the Fallon-Leno news Wednesday night.
Conan’s comments came about midway through his Wednesday “Conan” show on TBS, which this week has been on the road, originating from Atlanta. “I want to congratulate Jimmy,” Conan said of Fallon. Then he said, “That is a really fun gig,” which made the audience laugh because they evidently felt he was kidding.
But, O’Brien insisted, “It is! And Jimmy is the perfect guy to do it. Congratulations, Jimmy.”
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Fallon himself mentioned the news at the opening of his monologue on NBC’s “Late Night” on Wednesday, and then he talked about it again when he was seated behind his desk. “Welcome! This is ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’… for now,” Fallon 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.”
On ABC, Jimmy Kimmel had a monologue joke about Fallon that played on their same first names. “As you probably heard,” Kimmel said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Wednesday, “I will take over as new host of ‘The Tonight Show’.” He was then interrupted by a crew member who whispered something to him. Then Kimmel said, “Um, apparently it was a different Jimmy. Does anyone know what the return policy is on yachts?” Kimmel’s distaste for Leno is so well-known (mainly because Kimmel mentions it every chance he gets) that we might have expected him to say more about the Leno-Fallon switch Wednesday night.
But that task was taken up by Letterman, who talked about “The Tonight Show” in his monologue, and then during his first segment behind his “Late Show” desk. He even produced a Leno “Top Ten” list — “Top Ten Things We’ll Miss About Jay Leno.”
Dave’s comments about Jay were comedic, but also sentimental and heartfelt. He opened his monologue by likening the “Tonight Show” succession to the recent succession of popes at the Vatican. “How many folks earlier today saw the white smoke coming out of the chimney at NBC? Anybody see that?” Dave said to open the show.
Later, seated behind his desk, Letterman expressed his puzzlement over Leno being pushed aside for Fallon when Leno continues to keep “The Tonight Show” on top in the late-night ratings. “Good luck to Jay,” Dave said. “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!” Letterman said.