Now that we know NBC is showing Jay Leno the door, the question becomes what the reigning king of late-night television will do when he is no longer on late-night television. Well, according to The Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni, he could have to start waking up a lot earlier.
Belloni's report confirms what we already know: NBC executive Bob Greenblatt and Leno were feuding, Leno made a bunch of jokes in his monologues at NBC's expense, reports of his ouster for Jimmy Fallon came out, and then a truce was brokered after Greenblatt and Leno had lunch to talk things over. NBC wants Fallon on The Tonight Show because he's drawing good ratings from both young people and old people, which is like a late-night perfect storm, and also because Leno is still expensive, even after taking that pay cut.
So, the future is now! Or at least it will be in September 2014 when Leno's contract expires and the transition finally takes place. It's looking less and less likely that Leno will make an early exit because of contract stipulations that would force NBC to pay huge penalties if moves were made any sooner. But once everything is over and the dust is settled, this is what Leno's future looks like, per Belloni:
Cable, too, could present options for Leno. Multiple sources suggest at least two cable networks have expressed interest in him. Other possibilities include a daytime show a la Ellen, a primetime variety show or even a CNN entry reuniting him with former NBCU chief Jeff Zucker, who famously set the last round of late-night wars in motion in 2004 when he promised O'Brien he would inherit The Tonight Show in 2009 if he re-upped on Late Night for five years.
So what comes next for Mr. Leno? Let's take a look at what we know, what we don't know, and what we can speculate wildly about:
- Leno getting approached by cable companies
Ha. Ha ha. Hahaha. If memory serves, the last outgoing host of The Tonight Show got a pretty good deal from a cable company and was never seen or heard from again. The irony of TBS perhaps putting Leno in front on Conan O'Brien as a lead-in is terrifying. Still, Conan is the only real, bonafide star on TBS and the risk of angering him if he got whiff of the offer would be a disaster. Putting Leno in George Lopez's old time-slot immediately following Conan is as delicious as it is improbable. One can dream, though.
- Leno going to Fox
Reports came out last week that Fox's president wanted to make an aggressive push for Leno to fill their missing hour. Leno's new show would start at 11 o'clock, about a half an hour earlier before the rest of the late-night gang. But Belloni throws some cold-ish water on that idea:
In fact, according to Bill Carroll, director of programming at Katz Media Group, it's the "only logical place" in syndication. What's more, Fox affiliate board chairman Steve Pruett recently told The New York Post that if the network were to present "the right business plan, the affiliate board would be interested." Still, Fox weighed the option of luring O'Brien when he lostTonight and ultimately decided it did not make economic sense. Carroll estimates it would cost $100 million to launch a new Leno show.
It doesn't matter if Rupert Murdoch is ultimately footing the bill, no matter how you slice it a 100 million bucks is a whole lotta bucks.
- Leno doing a primetime variety show
OK, what? Remember when Leno went to primetime and basically did a late night variety show in primetime and it failed spectacularly? Let's just laugh at this idea and move on. Leave the variety hours to people who are funny, like Maya Rudolph.
- Leno going to daytime TV
This idea isn't outlandish, but the daytime TV landscape is crowded already: CBS has Dr. Phil; ABC has the one-two knockout combo of Katie Couric, who is surging in the ratings, and Ellen Degeneres, the reigning queen of daytime TV; while NBC has its own emerging winner in Steve Harvey. It's unlikely Leno will stick around the NBC studios considering their relatioinship is currently standing on a rickety bridge that's burning down as we speak, so that leaves the most obvious destination...
- Leno going to CNN
And, kaboom. Let's wrap this one up in a little bow. We've got an exclusive scoop from this shakeable magic 8-ball that says "signs point to yes" when it comes to Leno going to CNN. Jeff Zucker -- Leno's old NBC boss -- was the guy who originally convinced Leno to step out from behind the Tonight Show desk and into primetime back in 2009. Depending on how much Leno blames Zucker for the fiasco that ensued, it's proof Zucker has the persuasive powers to convince Leno to try new things. And with deep Turner pockets and a lagging cable news channel's primetime lineup to spruce up, maybe Leno becomes the next Larry King? That move makes so much sense that Variety's Brian Lowry is already bullish about the idea. According to Lowry, Leno would fit right in on cable news:
Oh, and the whole “We have to get younger” pressure, cited as motivation in every attempt to replace Leno? Given the geriatric skew of cable news, where more than half the audience is over 60, Leno – at 62, six months younger than ratings champ Bill O’Reilly – would fit right in.
So that's what Leno's future looks like. Murky offers from the major networks, an unclear image of where he fits into the day's schedule and offers from major cable channels that could make or break both Leno and the network he signs with.