Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that NBC is considering making a major announcement at their May upfront presentation that the upcoming 2013-14 will be Jay Leno’s last hosting “The Tonight Show,” and that Jimmy Fallon is being groomed to take over the 11:35 p.m. late-night timeslot. What is the reason for that? It is really pretty simple: Jimmy Kimmel has competed well against Leno ever since moving his show directly against him earlier this year, and executives want to ensure that they have a host who young people will stay with for years to come. If they wait too long to move in Fallon, the Kimmel may have already taken hold of the timeslot against the older-skewing Leno and David Letterman.
Here is how the THR sources puts it:
“The more time Jimmy Kimmel is in that slot, the more the young audience goes that way, the harder it is for Jimmy [Fallon] to keep that audience.”
Now, it should be noted that NBC firmly denies that any of this is happening, and a rep for Leno would not comment on “rumor.” But if it is true, is Fallon ready for an 11:35 show? The obvious strength for him is that he does play well to young audiences, has an enormous contact list of celebrity friends, and would really not have to change his comedy very much to suit a crowd earlier in the night. (This, from our standpoint, was one of the biggest struggles Conan O’Brien faced.) At the same time, we hope that Fallon would be able to stay in New York with The Roots, since that whole atmosphere is what makes his show successful.
What may keep some of this plan from happening is that Leno, like his longtime rival Letterman (and there is similar history with these two), is signed through the end of 2014, and NBC would need to ultimately pay him to leave early if they wanted to launch Fallon’s new show in the summer or the fall. Can they really afford to keep paying off late-night hosts to not host? The other concern here, though, is that if NBC waits until the end of 2014 and Letterman retires, it is possible that CBS could try to bring the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member over and a bidding war could ensue.
Do you think that we could be seeing Leno retire in 2014 with Fallon taking over his timeslot, or are you skeptical of this whole report for the time being? For now, let’s just take a wait and see approach … and get excited for Prince to perform on “Late Night” soon.