NBC Trying To Oust Jay Leno From The Tonight Show Again

It looks like NBC is going to make another run at taking The Tonight Show away from Jay Leno, and move it 3000 miles east in the process:

NBC has settled on two new stars for “The Tonight Show”: Jimmy Fallon and New York City.

The network has made a commitment to Mr. Fallon, the current host of its “Late Night” program, for him to succeed Jay Leno as the next host of “Tonight,” according to several senior television executives involved in the decision. As part of the agreement, the show would move from Burbank, Calif., back to New York, where it started in 1954 with Steve Allen as host.

NBC has not completed a deal with Mr. Fallon yet, but his assent is considered mostly a formality, since the move would represent a significant step up for him. And the network has not settled on an exact timetable for the switch, though it is expected to take place by fall 2014 at the latest, said the executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions were still continuing.

One senior executive who has been involved in the discussions said on Wednesday that “there is no way on earth that this is not going to happen.”

The move to Mr. Fallon would be a significant cultural, and geographic, shift. Mr. Leno delivers a more traditional Las Vegas-style comedy act that is viewed as a link to previous hosts, including his immediate predecessor, Johnny Carson. Mr. Fallon, 38, offers a more contemporary and varied brand of entertainment, with a heavy reliance on the Internet. His best material gains additional life on sites like YouTube, and he actively courts interaction with his viewers by having them submit comedy ideas through Twitter.

NBC has been desperate to avoid a repeat of the circuslike atmosphere that accompanied previous transitions on “Tonight,” the executives said. The changing of the guard is one of the biggest personnel decisions in television, and has always been fraught with intrigue and back-room maneuvering.

Three years ago, NBC’s effort to replace Mr. Leno with Conan O’Brien ended in recriminations and a definitive reversal; Mr. Leno was reinstated as host after only seven months, and NBC endured weeks of negative news coverage. In the early 1990s, Mr. Leno and David Letterman engaged in an often acrimonious competition to replace Mr. Carson.

But a transition totally free of tumult may be difficult to accomplish. Already there has been sniping between Mr. Leno and NBC’s top entertainment executive, Robert Greenblatt, over some stinging jokes Mr. Leno made in his monologue about the failure of NBC’s prime-time schedule.

Mr. Greenblatt, who is responsible for that schedule, directed some pointed criticism at Mr. Leno in an e-mail to him. Mr. Leno stood his ground in a response, asserting that jokes spoofing the network are part of the job for a late-night host.

Mr. Leno, who will turn 63 next month, has continued to take shots at NBC’s management. On Monday, he joked about how the snakes that St. Patrick drove from Ireland came to the United States and became NBC executives.

I rarely watch any of the late night shows any more unless it’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but these shows are still big money makers for the networks. What’s hilarious to watch is the extent to which Leno has mattered to come back even though NBC clearly wants to move on to the next generation.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Rafer Janders says:

    I’ve become convinced that decades from now Jay Leno will still be hosting the Tonight Show while NBC will be a shattered smoking crater….

  2. Tyrell says:

    I think that the days (nights) of the late night shows are coming to an end. Today’s generations are not into staying up that late propped on their pillows watching tv. I remember long ago, before Carson, our local station (we only had two back then) had scary movies on Friday nights. My favorites were “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, “The Thing”, and “The Leech Woman”. Nothing like it, especially with real homemade popcorn, not that microwave fluff! After the movie, the stations would play the National Anthem and sign off! What great memories!

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Seriously, Leno and Letterman are so stale. Creatively? Those guys peaked out 25 years ago and it’s been a long slow slide ever since. Those guys are my generation and I don’t bother with them any more.

    Just watch Stewart, Colbert, Fallon, Kimmel, or Chelsea Handler – there’s some comic energy there. The contrast to Leno and Letterman is really obvious.

  4. aFloridian says:

    I still think Leno is pretty funny. Fallon is great and Kimmel is very underrated. I have always hated Letterman, and Chelsea Handler is just utter trash for college sorority girls.

    Colbert was funny for a while, but his schtick got old and it really did go to his head. Stewart deserves credit for staying credible and funny for so long.

  5. Lib Cap says:

    I rarely watch any of the late night shows any more unless it’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report…”

    You know, Ihave to say that SNL have been surprisingly good this season.

    Drunk Uncle? A new classic.


  6. kcstrawberryblonde says:

    Leno has needed to get the boot for a couple of years.Please tell me they’re not going to keep him in that spot for another year and a half! The guy CAN be funny.But in recent years when he should have been telling funny jokes/doing comedy skits, he instead used the time to push his right wing extremist politics and go on,and on,and on trying to promote the Kardashians! He makes hurtful and ignorant comments,straight out of the 1950’s mocking people with brain disorders. Doing so offends scads of people fighting courageous battles against life-threatening and badly misunderstood diseases:The people who have the disorders, the people who love them,and the healthcare providers who make a career of working with the mentally challenged.I was through with him the night he made a “joke” that anyone taking an antidepressant for any reason deserved to be laughed at. WTH?!
    Jimmy Fallon radiates energy,he’s physically attractive, and his show is fun to watch,but he could use some funnier jokes and he could,maybe cut down on the times he goes into giggling hysterics to the point he can’t converse with the guests.I don’t know if he’s emotionally mature enough to host The Tonight Show or not but I hope so, and I wish him well.

  7. MBunge says:

    NBC is run by chimps. I don’t believe there’s ever been a network as poorly run for as long without going out of business. Their programming decisions are asinine. Their show development process is practically a textbook example of everything that’s wrong with modern TV. This, however, may be the biggest boner they’ve ever pulled because they’ve got the example of the Conan Tonight Show debacle staring them in the face.

    I’m not a fan of Leno, but let him do the show until he or the ratings drop. There will always be another young comedian/host to replace him.