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Jay will sit in for Johnny _ for good

Heeeeeere's Jay. NBC officially announced Thursday that comedian Jay Leno will take over as host of the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retires next year.

"We are happy to have Jay Leno, one of the most talented comedians in the business, as Johnny's successor," said Warren Littlefield, president of NBC Enterprises and executive vice president of NBC Productions.

Leno, 41, has been exclusive guest host of Tonight 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," Littlefield said.

Carson, whose last show will be May 22, said through an NBC spokesman: "I wish 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 for the last 10 years _ NBC will have a great late-night lineup."

The New York Daily News said Letterman, once considered Carson's heir apparent, was described by an unnamed source as "fit to be tied" when told of Leno's appointment. Late Night with David Letterman is broadcast immediately after Tonight.

Carson's company produces Tonight and, in association with NBC, the Letterman show. The Daily News said Tonight brings in an estimated $60-million annually for the network, which is 15 percent of NBC's revenue.

"Johnny's the best at what he does," Leno told USA Today. "I don't think we'll ever see the likes of it again. No one will ever hold an audience for 30 years the way Johnny has."

He said he had a couple of people in mind for sidekick announcer and bandleader, but had not discussed it with them yet. Carson's crew, Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen, are expected to retire with him next May.