Jim Bell, a veteran producer who has overseen NBC’s crown jewels “Tonight,” “Today” and the Olympics, is leaving the network after a 30-year run.
Bell had served as executive producer of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” since October 2018 after leading NBC’s Olympics coverage for six years. Fallon’s program has trailed CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” in the ratings as Colbert has become the leading late-night commentator on the Trump administration.
In a statement issued Monday, Bell said when he agreed to take over “Tonight,” he “would only commit for a year” and has chosen to move on.
“The past year with Jimmy and the terrific team at the show has been a blast, and I will always be grateful for this opportunity. But after serious contemplation, I realized I did not want to extend my time at the show,” Bell said. “Those thoughts are part of larger ones I have been having about my career, and what has emerged for me is a strong desire to delve into something new — to build on my experience in news, sports and entertainment so I can broaden and deepen my leadership role in the content universe.”
Bell also had a seven-year run as executive producer of NBC’s “Today” from 2005-12, during Matt Lauer’s tenure as co-anchor. According to three executives at NBC, there are no indications Bell’s departure is related to the company’s issues with Lauer, who was fired in November 2017 for sexual misconduct. Those issues have come under scrutiny again since the publication of former NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill.”
Farrow has alleged that NBC executives were aware of Lauer’s behavior at “Today.” NBC News has countered that it had no complaints against Lauer before an employee came forward about an incident at the 2014 Winter Olympics that led to his immediate dismissal. In Farrow’s book, the employee, Brooke Nevils, contended she was raped by Lauer, an allegation he has denied.
Bell’s successor at “Tonight” is writer and producer Gavin Purcell, who recently signed a scripted and unscripted producing deal with Universal Television. Purcell, who previously had a five-year run at the program, will serve as showrunner for an interim period. A statement from NBC said Purcell’s return means a greater emphasis on the show’s digital content.
Bell used his vast experience in live TV production to bring more currency to the long-running “Tonight” franchise. The show added a Sunday telecast to follow “Sunday Night Football” and live broadcasts to follow the Democratic primary debates.