Sometime by the fall of 2014 ("at the latest"), Jimmy Fallon will take over for Jay Leno on NBC's The Tonight Show, and will do so from New York City, the city the show left in 1972. A brand new, state-of-the-art studio at 30 Rock is already under construction. This is all according to a new report from the New York Times' Bill Carter, who is the authority on late night news if there ever was one. Whether the move is the root cause of current host Jay Leno's tantrums of late is unknown. His issues with NBC management are "being smoothed over,' Carter reports.
On March 1, The Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters reported NBC was fast-tracking a Leno-to-Fallon handoff starting with a soft launch in summer 2014, and then a formal kickoff at the end of the year. Leno's contract ends in the fall of 2014. NBC's reported logic was that they were scared Jimmy Kimmel was closing in on Leno's 18-49 demographic viewers. According to Carter, the fear is that waiting much longer on the Leno-to-Fallon transition will allow Kimmel to "lock up the younger-adult viewers that are the economic lifeblood of late-night television." But the vexing part of the whole ordeal is that Leno is still the highest rated late night host on television. Masters reports today that the move could come as early as February 2014 to coincide with NBC's Winter Olympics coverage.
Leno and NBC executives are also at a strange impasse in their relationship. He's still the late night king, but they've soured on him and he's behaving like a child. On the February 28 edition of the Tonight Show, Leno joked that NBC was "Cinco de Ratings" because they're behind Univision, that The Biggest Loser is the channel's "new motto," and that NBC called Manti Te'o to help find new (invisible) viewers. Those jokes led to another report from Carter that came out over the weekend about an "exchange of pointed emails" between Leno and NBC entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt. The executive took exception to the jokes made at the network's expense. It's no secret NBC's ratings are in the tank. But since that report came out he's been even worse. On Monday, he called NBC executives "snakes," and Tuesday he said a woman who sees everything upside down thought NBC was the highest rated network on TV.
The message: if Leno has to go, he's not going to go quietly.
But again, that's being "smoothed over," says Carter.
In the meantime, some are celebrating the fact that the show is moving back to its birthplace, New York City. When The Tonight Show first started back in 1954 with original host Steve Allen, the show was always taped in the Big Apple. But it was Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show's gold standard host, who moved the show to Los Angeles in 1972 to be closer to the big Hollywood movie stars. But now that technology has advanced and airplanes aren't half the hassle they were in the middle of the 20th century, the move to New York won't negatively affect the show's ability to book guests.
The next question becomes who will replace Fallon as the host of NBC's Late Night. There were reports that NBC was prepping Howard Stern for the role, but according to The Hollywood Reporter another former Saturday Night Live cast member is being looked at: the show's current head writer and Weekend Update anchor, Seth Meyers. Meyers has been on SNL for 12 years and is the show's longest tenured cast member. He's only two shy of Darrell Hammond's record -- he was on for 14 years. A transition now would save him from any sticking-around-longer-than-welcome jokes. He can ask Tim Meadows how funny those are.
In a convenient bit of timing, GQ profiled Fallon for their April issue and had the host's defacto first statement on the matter. On hosting The Tonight Show? "I mean, in the nicest way, who really cares?" he says. He sounds pretty ambivalent to the matter, but this interview would have been conducted months ago, before the host changeover trade winds really kicked up. It would be easier to fib about already being promised the job. "It would be great, sure, I guess. I'd love it, but it's not on my mind. I'm in no rush to do anything. I'm kind of a boring character in that book. I'm not in a fight with Jay or Conan, or any of them. I don't have that story." On his younger soon-to-be-rival host Kimmel: "Love him! ... I'm so happy he's moved to eleven thirty. It's a good move for him." When is moving to eleven thirty not a good move, Mr. Fallon?
Update 6:17 p.m.: The Hollywood Reporter says Jimmy Fallon called Leno this afternoon "out of deference" to his time behind the Tonight desk. Oh, what we would give to have been listening in on that conversation. (A lot. We would give a lot.)