Jimmy Fallon paid respectful tribute to Jay Leno in an interview on “The Today Show.”
“It’s kind of a little nerve-wracking, but exciting to step into his shoes,” Fallon, 38, said of Leno, 63, who Fallon will replace next February as host of “The Tonight Show.” “He kept the franchise going for a long time and I hope to make him proud,” Fallon said.
The interview was apparently the same one that was conducted last week by Savannah Guthrie in Fallon’s “Late Night” studio. With Fallon off this week, “The Today Show” has been rolling out pieces of this interview over the last few days. On Tuesday, Fallon talked about his and his wife’s five-year struggle to have a baby, which resulted in the birth of a daughter last month.
In the interview portion about “The Tonight Show” and Leno, Fallon actually went overboard with his praise of Jay when he over-stated the number of years that Leno has kept “The Tonight Show” in the No. 1 spot in the late-night ratings.
“Jay Leno has just been awesome to me,” Fallon said. “I’ve talked to him all the time since I started. ‘Don’t think I’m trying to take over [Jimmy said he told Jay] and whenever you’re ready to go …’ Then he just called me one day and he’s like, ‘I think that time’s coming and I think you’d be great’ and, uh, which is very nice,” Fallon said. “Made me feel really good.”
“It must have meant a lot to you because I’m sure you care a lot about him as a colleague and a friend,” Guthrie said.
And here’s the part where Fallon revealed he lacks a command of late-night television history. “He’s amazing,” he said of Jay. “You gotta respect the guy. He’s been No. 1 for like how many years? Almost 30 years? It’s unbelievable.”
It’s also not true. Leno took over the show in May 1992 — 21 years ago. He moved into the top spot in the Nielsen ratings in 1995, and kept the show there throughout his tenure as host (minus the time that Conan O’Brien hosted the show).