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NBC Olympics chief Jim Bell named executive in charge of 'The Tonight Show'

NBC Olympics chief Jim Bell named executive in charge of 'The Tonight Show'
Jim Bell, currently NBC Olympics' president of production and programming, has been named producer of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." (Heidi Gutman / NBCUniversal)

Veteran producer Jim Bell, currently the executive in charge of Olympics coverage for NBC, will take on the top producing role at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the network announced Wednesday.

Bell will have the title of executive in charge for the late-night franchise, which has been running behind CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” in the ratings in the last year.

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Bell, 51, has been president of production and programming for NBC Olympics since January 2017, a role that has put him in charge of all of the network’s editorial content related to the Olympic Games. Before rejoining NBC Sports in 2012, he spent seven years as executive producer of NBC’s early morning news franchise “Today.”

Bell, a Harvard University graduate, has worked on 12 Olympics, every one since the 1992 Barcelona Games with NBC and the last four as executive producer.

Bell’s experience in news and live TV production is among the factors driving the decision to put him in charge of “Tonight.” With Fallon as host, the program has fallen to second place in viewership and has failed to generate the kind of topical sizzle that Colbert has produced since the election of President Trump in 2016.

Colbert’s turnaround also came after CBS installed veteran news producer Chris Licht to run “The Late Show.” Licht is the architect of “CBS This Morning,” the most successful morning program in the network’s history, and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the news discussion program that is considered required viewing for Beltway power brokers.

Fallon does some topical humor on “Tonight,” but he does not deliver political jibes with the same frequency or passion as Colbert or ABC’s late-night host, Jimmy Kimmel. Though late-night comedy has long played a role in the national political dialogue, the public has become more attentive to the hosts’ commentary in the Trump era.

Bell is not expected to force Fallon to change his act, which still appeals to the vast swath of viewers across the country who want a break from the media’s Trump obsession. But the network will be looking for some fresh ideas from Bell, who has spent years successfully running one of the network’s most lucrative franchises in “Today.”

Bell’s arrival follows the departure of longtime producer Mike DiCenzo, who announced Monday that he was leaving the program after 10 years of working with Fallon in late night. DiCenzo had made the decision to leave several months ago. The program’s other producers, Katie Hockemeyer and Gerard Bradford, are remaining in their current jobs under Bell.

Although “The Late Show” has more viewers than “Tonight,” NBC’s program has had a slight edge in recent weeks among the 18-to-49 age group coveted by advertisers, and executives have said demand for commercial time has remained strong.

Oct. 24, 9:35 a.m.: This article was updated with NBC’s announcement of Jim Bell’s appointment.

This article was originally published Oct. 23 at 3:25 p.m.

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