NBC Trying To Oust Jay Leno From The Tonight Show Again
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.