There are so many revolving doors in NBC's late-night lineup right now that the latest rumors add up to such a stretch that they're almost good enough to be true: When Jay Leno gets replaced by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show sooner than expected, Fallon could cede the Late Night desk at 12:35 a.m. to none other than the self-proclaimed "king of all media," Howard Stern. It's a chair first occupied by a jerky young Dave Letterman, but it's within the realm of possibility... sort of.
That's according to a report from New York Post TV critic Linda Stasi, who claims Stern is being "groomed" by NBC to replace Fallon once the former Saturday Night Live star gets called up to the big chair. The Hollywood Reporter reported over the weekend that we could see a Leno-to-Fallon handoff announcement as early as this May, with Fallon taking over Tonight with a soft launch in Summer 2014, followed by a full turnover in the fall. The reported logic behind the Jay-to-Jimmy move is that Leno is losing ground in the coveted 18-34 demographic to the slightly edgier Jimmy Kimmel over at ABC. The move could also be about money: Leno is freaking expensive. And, as Grantland's Joe Reid pointed out, Fallon and Leno joked about getting the boot at the Golden Globes last year:
So, all of that movement would leave Fallon's Late Night spot open for the taking. There is no obvious in-house NBC host that the network has been grooming for the late-late-night spot, unless you count Carson Daly, whom NBC has been grooming since 2002. But would NBC splurge on giving Stern on another nighttime outlet? Would it be too much of a risk on all sides? Let's dream a late-night dream:
Stern's radio show would be demanding on his schedule — and in general.
This is probably the biggest thing holding back the 59-year-old Stern from even being interested in the Late Night gig: He would have to juggle his radio schedule with his late-night taping schedule. He already does his show for Sirius three days a week, for four hours a day, live, starting at 6 a.m. He wouldn't have to start a late-night taping at NBC studios until sometime around 5:30 p.m., but he'd have to show up at another office at some point, and there would probably be some sort of pre-interview process and a little more writing than Stern's free-wheeling morning schtick. Schedules are one thing, but no one tells Howard Stern how to run his show, and a variety hour at that hour might be a little taxing on a guy who doesn't need more overexposure.
Stern's a little too old for NBC's target demographic — especially at stoner hour.
Let's face it: Despite his huge following among key demographics, Stern is old. Like, he's almost 60 years old. He's almost a senior! Conan wasn't even 30 when he took over Late Night from Letterman, who was in his mid-30s when he started the show in place of The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, who was always kind of old and boring. For a network desperate to skew young again, it's a Jimmy Fallon world. Late Night is the show meant to cater to the younger, stranger, more stoned comedic stylings of the 20-year-olds of the moments. Stern appeals more to their dads, or at least their slightly older cousins who are already listening to him in the car the next morning.
Stern's paycheck ain't gonna come cheap.
After vanishing from terrestrial radio to negotiate a satellite contract where he could do and say anything for a ton of money, Stern remains signed with Sirius radio, where he has two dedicated channels, through 2015. The salary for his current deal is estimated somewhere in the universe of $400 million, and his first contract signed in 2005 was worth $500 million, and the addition of Stern's show drastically boosted the service's subscriber numbers. When Stern signed on to judge NBC's America's Got Talent for another season — and they moved the show to New York specifically for him — they also paid him a rumored $20 million for a summer's worth of work. If NBC were to sign him for a full year's worth of Late Night duty, even on his own terms and with weird guests and maybe a rambling monologue, Stern would likely command a ridiculous amount of money. Likely more than Jimmy Fallon in the big slot.
But, despite all that, NBC seems to love the guy!
Sometimes love blinds the eyes from what seems obvious to everyone else, and sometimes NBC gets desperate. To network executives, especially the ones at NBC, Howard Stern is still Howard Stern. He's still the guy who commanded a regular audience of 12 million on terrestrial radio. "What we wanted to do was invest in the long-term future of the franchise," NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy told The New York Times before the Stern'd America's Got Talent aired. He's still one of the biggest draws out there, even though his addition to America's Got Talent didn't translate into a major ratings boost. "[A ratings increase] did not happen, though the series still performed well and NBC executives said the addition of Mr. Stern most likely prevented a sharp falloff in the show’s performance after many years as the summer’s only true ratings hit for network television" the Times' Bill Carter wrote after NBC announced Stern would return as a judge for a second season to air this summer. "Howard Stern's towering presence and opinions on last season's show as a new judge made a dramatic impact and added a sharper edge to the fascinating developments on stage," Telegdy said at the time. Infatuation can make people say and do funny things. So, who really knows? Maybe Stern is coming to Late Night. Maybe Letterman will return to his old chair at NBC. Maybe pigs will fly. Jimmy Fallon, who's been a guest on Stern each of the last two years and says he tunes in "whenever he can," will be listening intently — and comfortably. So will the king.