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Leno to bow out on US 'Tonight' show

Comedians Jimmy Fallon (R) and Jay Leno pose in the press room at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills on January 13, 2013
Comedians Jimmy Fallon (R) and Jay Leno pose in the press room at the Golden Globes awards ceremony in Beverly Hills on January 13, 2013. Leno will bow out after 22 years on the "Tonight Show" next year, making way for Fallon, NBC announced Wednesday.

Veteran US late-night TV host Jay Leno is bowing out after 22 years on the iconic "Tonight Show," clearing the way for young star Jimmy Fallon to take the show to New York, NBC announced Wednesday.

Confirming weeks of reports, the network said production of the show will move from Los Angeles to its historic home in the Big Apple at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where Fallon's current show is already made.

"Congratulations Jimmy," said Leno, who has made no secret of his soured relations with NBC bosses in recent weeks, making running gags about the network's dismal ratings.

"I hope you're as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you're the old guy. If you need me, I'll be at the garage," added the 62-year-old, who will hand over when his contract ends early next year.

Fallon, 38, added: "I'm really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow" -- referring to moving from his current show's after midnight time slot to "Tonight," which airs nightly at 11:35 pm.

Leno's relations with NBC have been strained of late as he made a series of gags in his opening monologues about the network's poor ratings, and his bosses.

In one just after St Patrick's Day, he said: "You know the whole legend of St Patrick, right? St Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland -- and then they came to the United States and became NBC executives."

In another, he said scientists were now able to do Jurassic Park-style cloning of extinct species: "Imagine that? Things that were once thought to be extinct could now be brought back from the dead.

"So there's hope for NBC. It could turn around," joked Leno, who has given no indication of what he will do next. He will not be short of offers.

But NBCUniversal head Steve Burke hailed Leno Wednesday. "Jay Leno is an entertainment icon, making millions of people laugh every weeknight for more than 20 years," he said.

"His long reign as the highest-rated late-night host is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to his viewers. We are purposefully making this change when Jay is #1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was #1.

"Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time," he added.

The swap will be the second time Leno has left the "Tonight Show" in five years, after his botched 2009 replacement by Conan O'Brien triggered a ratings slump, leading to his return within months.

The show first aired in 1954, originally hosted by Steve Allen in New York, although its most famous and longest-running presenter was Carson, who hosted it for three decades.

It moved to studios in Burbank, outside Los Angeles, in 1972. Leno succeeded Carson in 1992 and has made the show in California ever since, apart from the brief hiatus four years ago.

The announcement is bad news for Los Angeles, both in terms of image and jobs -- the mayor of Burbank made an open plea to NBC to reconsider the New York move, after it was first reported two weeks ago.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was "thrilled" at the news, adding: "It's the perfect symbol of incredible comeback we've worked to create in our city's film and television industry."

With Fallon as host, the show "will bring even more jobs and economic activity to our city. And we couldn't be happier that one of New York's own is bringing the show back to where it started -- and where it belongs," he said.