In what seems like a case of déjà vu all over again, rumors are circulating that NBC may ask Jay Leno to leave his long-held gig on The Tonight Show after his contract expires in 2014, so that he can be replaced by the guy who comes on after him, Jimmy Fallon. While NBC denies the rumor and Leno’s team has provided no comment, Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter says that two unnamed “high-level industry sources” told her that the network “is moving toward a May announcement” about the transition.
Why now? Supposedly, it is all about age: ABC’s competing late-night vehicle, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, was moved to the 11:35 slot in January and has become a worthy opponent for Leno in the bid for the coveted 18-49 demographic. One source cited by The Hollywood Reporter says that Kimmel may be siphoning off younger viewers that would otherwise watch Leno—and then stick around for Fallon.
But Fallon shouldn’t get too excited just yet, apparently. As Masters reports, Leno is still consistently winning the late-night ratings race overall, and may not want to give up his hosting duties—especially while his long-time rival David Letterman is still holding court at Late Night. (Letterman’s contract ends in 2014 as well; no word yet on whether he will renew it.) And the younger host may want to proceed with caution anyway, lest the Conan O’Brien-Leno programming nightmare from just a few years ago—in which a plan to move O’Brien to Tonight and Leno to his own earlier time slot proved disastrous—repeat itself.
Fallon has proven to be a reliably delightful host with a hip backing band (The Roots) and a comparatively youthful energy to boot. He seems like the perfect choice as the next host of The Tonight Show. Then again, O’Brien seemed like an awfully good choice, too. However this plays out, here’s hoping we don’t have to put up any Team Fallon signs any time soon.