Jimmy Fallon is on track to replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show on NBC in 2014, according to unnamed sources in The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter.
Fallon, currently host of NBC's Late Night, will likely move The Tonight Show back to the network's 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York City, according to The Times. Tonight started there with Steve Allen as host in 1954. The show moved to California in 1972 with host Johnny Carson.
Both news outlets say the timing of a switch from Leno to Fallon is a point of debate among network executives. The Hollywood Reporter says this:
According to these sources, some top executives at NBCUniversal are leaning toward a February launch to take advantage of the promotional platform of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Others, including Late Night executive producer Lorne Michaels, are said to have concerns about rushing the transition.
Speculation in The Times puts the transition from Leno to Fallon at no later than the fall of 2014, when Leno's contract is set to expire.
NBC has not said publicly what its plans are for the show.
Leno, for his part, has ratings and history on his side. He was moved out of the Tonight host's seat several years ago in favor of a younger Conan O'Brien, only to return to the helm less than a year later. Since then he has pushed Tonight back to the top of the ratings. Entertainment Weekly sees Leno's power and resilience as something to keep in mind:
Because of Leno's [ratings] dominance, there has to be some fear that Fallon may not be able to hold onto that lead if he ever does succeed Leno, a veritable every man who tells jokes that have every man appeal. Longtime Leno fans may not stick around to watch the younger guy, and the poor lead-in that NBC is currently offering isn't doing The Tonight Show any favors.
Leno has made light on-air recently of NBC's primetime ratings problems. And on Monday's show, he went right at the network's executives. Here's CNN's report:
During his opening monologue, Jay Leno took a shot at the higher-ups of his network by saying, "You know the whole legend of St. Patrick, right? St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, and then they came into the United States and became NBC executives."
Update on Thursday, March 21 at 6:55 p.m. ET. Fallon Could Enliven Show
Bill Carter, who covers the television industry for The New York Times, says the biggest surprise is that the show might move to back to New York City. He tells Robert Siegel, host of All Things Considered, that a change of location could redefine the show.
"I think there's a sense that Fallon is a New York act. I mean, he's known for Saturday Night Live more than anything else," he says. "And I think there's an energy in New York that they like."
Carter says Fallon naturally appeals to a different and younger audience, which is vital for NBC.
"He's also a range of talent — he sings, he dances and he did that extremely funny bit with Michelle Obama as well very recently," he says. "I think there's a sense that this is a new way to do the show; [he's] not just a stand-up comedian who is gonna tell jokes."
But Carter acknowledges that shifting from Leno to Fallon may not be easy or immediately successful.
"It's going to be a risk for them and they may suffer some losses in the short term, hoping in the long term they have the right guy," he says."[But] this format, which has been the same for 60 years, is gonna have to change."
You can listen to the rest of their conversation at the top of this post.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And now finally this hour, the latest dispatch in the late night TV wars. It's about the venerable "Tonight Show" on NBC, which is hosted by Jay Leno out of Burbank, California.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")
SIEGEL: Well, according to Bill Carter of The New York Times, the real-life turnaround plan for "The Tonight Show" is to move it back to its original home...
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")
SIEGEL: ...and to make Jimmy Fallon the host. Well, Bill Carter joins us now from New York City. Bill Carter, first of all, two questions. Number one, why Jimmy Fallon? And when?
BILL CARTER: Well, I think Jimmy Fallon has been set up to be the successor, now, for awhile. He's been in the job four years, and they're very excited by his ability to bring in a range of talents. I think there's no surprise that he's the successor. I think the surprise is New York.
CARTER: But I also think the "when" is still a little undecided. I would imagine it will be some time mid- to late 2014.
SIEGEL: And what is the thinking about moving this show back to New York? After all, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and originally, Johnny Carson did the show from New York City.
CARTER: Yeah. I think there's a sense that Fallon is a New York act. I mean, he's known for "Saturday Night Live," more than anything else. His producer, Lorne Michaels, I believe probably would be able to stay with the show, then. And I think they really think that's a good combination. And I think there's an energy in New York that they like, and I just think they're looking for a new way to do the show. I think they're going to try to expand the show, in some way, make it more of a variety show to play to his talents because I do think - there's a conviction, at NBC, that you've got to do something new in late night. This format, which has been the same for 60 years, is going to have to change.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Here is a snippet of Jimmy Fallon performing with Justin Timberlake; their routine, the "History of Rap." This is the "History of Rap Part 4."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")
SIEGEL: Mind you, that's a tiny bit of a long routine in which Jimmy Fallon dances and raps - and I guess you can call it singing, too. This was shown to me on YouTube. I gather, part of the idea of Jimmy Fallon is, he's somebody people will watch the next day.
CARTER: Exactly. That's part of it. He appeals to that generation that uses social media. He uses Twitter to get comedy bits from his audience. And as, you know, he connects with that audience. He has a laptop open on his desk. He's also a range of talent - like, he sings; he dances; he did that extremely funny bit with Michelle Obama as well, very recently. And I think there's a sense that this is a new way to do the show, not just a standup comedian who's going to tell jokes.
SIEGEL: Sounds like a pretty big deal to move a program from one coast to the other, in order for it to be built around the host, around Jimmy Fallon. That's making him the franchise, in that case.
CARTER: It is. That's the big deal. He's going to be the franchise. I think they're a little concerned that ABC has moved Jimmy Kimmel into the time period, and Jimmy is young and does well on the Internet, and has a great YouTube following. I think they realize, this is a future move. They may take a bit of a loss because Jay is still winning. Jay does very well still, and especially because his network is doing very poorly - as he points out every night. So it's going to be a risk for them, and they may suffer some losses in the short term, hoping that in the long term, they have the right guy.
SIEGEL: Is the way that this story has leaked out - so far, unconfirmed - is this a bit of everybody with a late night show take one step forward not so fast, Jay Leno?
CARTER: No. I think Jay knew for a long time that this contract might be his last because they removed him once before, and had to bring him back. And it's been a slow progress to say, we need to get a new generation in there. I mean - you know, literally, Jay could be Jimmy's dad. So you really have to think about the future. I do think NBC has to make a move, but it would be nice if it was smoothly done.
SIEGEL: Well, Bill Carter, thanks for talking with us about it.
CARTER: Nice to be with you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Bill Carter - who was talking about what he says will be the move of "The Tonight Show" back to New York City, with Jimmy Fallon as the host, in a couple of years - covers the television industry for The New York Times.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.