On the 50th anniversary of the Tonight Show, NBC says O'Brien will replace Jay in 2009

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 27, 2004 03:00 PM

Jay Leno is out, and Conan O’Brien is in – but not until 2009.

Leno, who has hosted NBC’s Tonight Show since May 25, 1992, will surrender his desk to the redheaded Late Night host after 17 years on the show. Leno will announce the succession plan on Monday’s 50th anniversary episode of Tonight.

In a statement provided by NBC, Leno, 54, said: “When I signed my new contract, I felt that the timing was right to plan for my successor, and there is no one more qualified than Conan. Plus, I promised (my wife) Mavis I would take her out for dinner before I turned 60.”

O’Brien, 41, has signed a new contract with the network in a long-term deal that will keep him at the helm of his current show (which he has hosted for 11 years) until he takes over as host of Tonight from Leno, according to the network.

Since it first premiered on September 27, 1954, The Tonight Show has had just four permanent hosts: Steve Allen (1954-57), Jack Paar (1957-62), Johnny Carson (1962-1992) and Leno.

When the Tonight Show‘s top job was last up for grabs, a headline-making power play involved Leno and then-Late Night host David Letterman, whose dream desire was to take over from his idol, Carson. When Leno scored the hosting gig, Letterman, 57, left NBC in a huff and started up his own Late Show with David Letterman, on CBS.