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Since its debut in early 2014, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has been a mainstay on NBC's weekly late-night programming, just as previous iterations had before. However, the creative players behind-the-scenes have been in a relatively constant state of rotation. Throughout the years, a number of showrunners, producers and more have joined the show, only to inevitably leave at some point down the line. It's a common enough trend that it's worth exploring the timeline of the show's creative cycle.
The long-running talk show has experienced its fair share of creative issues with Jimmy Fallon as host, both on and off of the camera, which isn't entirely uncommon in the creative industry. Especially at a time where TV audiences have far more to choose from in the late-night hours. But considering its legacy, The Tonight Show's staff changes potentially indicate something more complicated. In any case, let's take a look at the timeline of the comings and goings behind the scenes of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Premieres (2014)
Following Jay Leno's exit from The Tonight Show (for real, that time), former Saturday Night Live personality Jimmy Fallon shifted from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to be at the forefront of The Tonight Show's latest facelift. In October 2013, several months before the newest version of The Tonight Show would premiere, showrunner/executive producer Josh Lieb came on-board. It's generally believed that Lieb played an instrumental role in the talk show's success throughout its first three seasons, particularly since that was the span when The Tonight Show was at its ratings peak.
Josh Lieb Exits The Tonight Show (2016)
After three seasons heading up The Tonight Show, showrunner Josh Lieb made his exit in order to pursue a deal with Universal Television. It's hard to determine exactly why the showrunner left beyond the job-furthering opportunities, but the timing of the exit was certainly curious. It happened just one month after the talk show's somewhat controversial interview with then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump, and while it's impossible to know if the pushback from this interview led to the showrunner's exit, it does serve as a overlap highlighting when The Tonight Show's creative troubles started up in the face of a more political late-night atmosphere.
Since leaving The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Josh Lieb has served as a writer and consulting producer for HBO's acclaimed satire Silicon Valley, and also served the same duties on FX's vampire romp What We Do In The Shadows. He's also been an executive producer and writer for Pod Saves America, and a consulting producer on Showtime's Who Is America? Suffice to say, Lieb has kept himself quite busy outside the ranks of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Mike DiCenzo, Katie Hockmeyer And Gerard Bradford Step Up (2016-2018)
Following Josh Lieb's exit from The Tonight Show, three different people stepped up to provide a bigger creative boost in the day-to-day making of the show. Katie Hockmeyer took charge of production on the program, while Mike DiCenzo and Gerard Bradford were leading the creative side. The trio oversaw Tonight Show episodes through the rest of 2016 and throughout 2017, where the talk show's shaky legs started to become more obvious. The generally fluffy, lighthearted series struggled to match the demand for more hard-hitting and politically-charged comedy material, a la The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The trio's exit was imminent.
The Tonight Show Loses Mike DiCenzo, Katie Hockmeyer and Gerard Bradford (2018)
As mentioned earlier, The Tonight Show was in the thrust of trying to stay true to its signature style while adjusting to a shifting pop culture climate. Alas, the three at the top of the heap did not maintain a lengthy run. Mike DiCenzo left The Tonight Show first, and most publicly, in October 2018, while Katie Hockmeyer and Gerard Bradford made quieter exits. Ultimately, network execs aimed to take The Tonight Show in a slightly new direction moving forward.
NBC's Jim Bell Becomes Showrunner For The Tonight Show (2018)
Not longer after Mike DiCenzo's exit, Jim Bell was somewhat surprisingly hired on as the showrunner for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. A veteran producer for NBC known for overseeing Today broadcasts and NBC Sports' Olympics coverage, Bell also represented a stark change in the intended direction of the TV program.
After a turbulent period where many showrunners were coming and going, Jim Bell's involvement was intended to give the show a bit more focus and direction, especially as it dipped in the ratings compared to its growing competition over at CBS with Stephen Colbert and at ABC with Jimmy Kimmel. Nevertheless, while Bell intended to hopefully steer the ship straight through troubled waters, his was not intended to be an extended stay.
Jim Bell Exits The Tonight Show (2019)
After only a year at the forefront of The Tonight Show, it was revealed earlier this month that Jim Bell was stepping down as the showrunner. In a statement published in The Hollywood Reporter, Bell says he'd only committed to navigating the series for a year, at which point he and his NBC bosses would review things from there. While we're not sure what happened with those meetings, if they happened, Bell decided to leave both The Tonight Show and NBC, and he's currently forging his path elsewhere after 30 years of working with the peacock network. The showrunner's chair wasn't left vacant for long, of course.
Gavin Purcell Joins The Tonight Show As Showrunner (2019)
Following Jim Bell's exit from The Tonight Show, the producers hired Gavin Purcell to take over showrunner duties going forward. Purcell is certainly no stranger to working with Jimmy Fallon. He was a part of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and he had a hand in the early days of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Purcell's promotion suggests a return to its focus on digital content and social media-friendly material. Whether the show will play a bigger or smaller political hand going into an election year is currently left unclear.
As The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon continues to find its footing after a turbulent few years, it's definitely apparent from the number of creative executives who have come and left The Tonight Show that it hasn't been easy to find the direction the late night talk show should take throughout the second half of the decade. Nevertheless, for the show's sake at least, here's hoping Gavin Purcell has a better time steering this ship forward again.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs weeknights on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET.