Leno joins Carson, Steve Allen and Jack Paar in an elite circle o hosts of the most highly acclaimed late-night show in television history. Carson announced the date of his last show last month.
When Leno takes over as host next spring, the show returns to NBC Productions, by which it was previously produced until Carson Productions assumed responsibility in September 1980.
"As exclusive guest host of 'The Tonight Show' for the past three years, Leno has proven extremely popular with the late-night audience, and we are confident that the show will continue its late-night dominance for many, many years. Jay and David (Letterman) give us a dynamite one-two late-night punch. As he approaches the end of his first decade of late-night TV, David Letterman has established himself as one of America's most creative personalities. His program is one of the most quoted and talked-about shows on television," Littlefield said.
Carson wished "Jay all the success in the world. He's a bright young performer, and I think along with David Letterman, who has proven his staying power the past 10 years, NBC will have a great late-night lineup."
Since the show premiered in 1954 as "Tonight" with Steve Allen as host, the "Tonight Show" franchise, with a winning combination of innovative comedy and classic conversation, has steamrolled the late-night competition throughout the years. As "Tonight," hosted by Steve Allen, the show ran from 1954 to 1957. For a brief period, January-July 1957, it was titled "Tonight! America After Dark." In late 1957 it was rebilled as "The Jack Paar Show," and Paar served as host until 1962. Carson, the host of the "The Tonight Show" for the past 29 years, will celebrate his 30th year with the show before his departure.
Leno first appeared as a guest on "The Tonight Show" on March 2, 1977. On Sept. 9, 1986, after numerous additional appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night With David Letterman," he became one of several guest hosts of "The Tonight Show." His popularity with the audiences eventually led to his being named exclusive guest host of "The Tonight Show" in September 1987.