Despite earlier denials, it’s clear that NBC is poised to begin hammering out a succession plan for Fallon to move up to The Tonight Show throne, possibly as soon as February 2014. Leno’s current contract is up in September 2014.
Insiders stressed that there is no formal deal in place for Fallon. But the chatter about host shuffle and the return of The Tonight Show to New York will undoubtedly force the network’s hand in addressing the contracts of both hosts.
That puts NBC in the awkward position of once again preparing for the exit of the host who remains No. 1 in the competitive latenight timeslot.
The New York Times reports Jimmy Kimmel was staking a claim to the younger viewers that are of most economic value in late-night television.
The transition focus talk comes barely four years after NBC briefly replaced Leno with Conan O’Brien, only to reverse course abruptly when The Tonight Show ratings took a dive.
Leno has been making light of the speculation on his show.
“According to several reports, scientists say they are getting closer and closer to being able to do Jurassic Park-style cloning of extinct species,” he said in Wednesday night’s monologue. “Imagine that? Things that were once thought to be extinct could now be brought back from the dead. So there’s hope for NBC. It could turn around.”
NBC’s ratings in prime time have hit record lows in the past two months. NBC now regularly finishes first in the ratings in only three places: the evening news, Saturday Night Live and Leno’s Tonight show. But Leno’s show is not the cash cow it once was and had its budget trimmed considerably two years ago when Leno signed his last deal.