Fallon to succeed Leno as host of “The Tonight Show”

Reach out and yell at someone.
Reach out and sing at someone.

Here we go again.

After weeks of speculation, NBC made it official last week: it was handing the hosting duties of The Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon, replacing Jay Leno in the role.

In addition, NBC is moving production of The Tonight Show to New York City, returning to the Big Apple for the first time in 42 years. Excluding the seven months Conan O’Brien hosted (where it was taped at Universal Studios), Tonight had been taped in “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” as Johnny Carson would say, at NBC’s Burbank facilities (once known as NBC Color City) since 1972. The facility also houses Access: Hollywood and KNBC, but both are moving to new digs at Universal City in 2014.

Lorne Michaels, who currently is executive producer of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, is joining Fallon on Tonight. Michaels will also continue to helm Late Night when the show names its new host.

The changeover is expected to take place early next year.

NBC hopes this transition would be smoother than the last one – as you recall, Leno back in 2004 agreed to cede hosting duties of Tonight over to Conan O’Brien five years down the road, in order to avoid the Leno-David Letterman Tonight Show fiasco of 1993. But Leno reneged on the deal, and wanted his Tonight gig back after the NBC nightly primetime show he was given flopped. O’Brien got the shaft, and moved to TBS.

NBC knew they had to make this move sooner or later after ABC moved younger-skewing Jimmy Kimmel Live to the post-late local news slot in January opposite older-skewing Leno and The Late Show With David Letterman on CBS. With the younger audience at 10:30 p.m., ABC can potentially charge higher ad rates than CBS or NBC, despite Kimmel’s so-so performance after replacing Nightline on January 8.

So what’s next for Jay Leno? Interestingly enough, the head of Fox’s affiliate board wants him to come to the network for a weeknight 10 p.m. time slot. This could be a huge roadblock, given many Fox affiliates and O&Os already have the time slot occupied by existing and first-run syndicated fare that can’t easily be moved. For example, Local TV LLC’s Fox affiliates in Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Kansas City already have booked the post late-night news slot for CBS Television Distribution’s returning Arsenio Hall Show. And keep in mind this is the same affiliate body who rejected Conan O’Brien when he became available three years ago.

Other possible destinations for Leno include various cable networks, though a deal is considered a long shot.

The return of Arsenio Hall and promoting Jimmy Fallon as host of Tonight is certainly a welcome sight in late night television. Outside of the major broadcast networks, and unless you have cable or satellite, alternatives would be hard to come by. Between 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., Chicago’s local stations offer programming of little appeal, with either aging off-network programming or second runs of first-run syndicated fare. Michael Essany tried to launch a local late-night talk show strip last fall titled Seven On Ridge over little-watched WJYS, but was considered a very long shot to succeed (indeed, his show lasted just nineteen episodes before going out of production.)

Worse, syndicators are not interested in programming specifically for late fringe like they did in the 1990s, preferring these days to create shows for daytime and early fringe dayparts. Declining homes-using-television levels is likely the culprit – in the past decade, late-night HUT levels have declined while early morning levels (4-7 a.m.) have gone through the roof, resulting in local news expansion.

Despite this, late-night TV is still a lucrative daypart. After all, Hollywood stars need a place where they can push their latest book, movie, or TV show – and while you’re there, you get a few laughs from pre-taped bits and hairpiece jokes – you get this all in one place! If prime-time television is like Lord & Taylor and Neiman-Marcus, late-night television is Wal-Mart (although these days, prime-time is starting to look like a Kmart with stuff thrown all over the aisles.)

Let the late night games begin. Again.