Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Gary Levin, USA TODAY
NBC is planning to build a new set for their late-night host Jimmy Fallon.
Could it soon be the next home of The Tonight Show?
It's been no secret that Fallon has been groomed the past few years to take over Tonight from current host Jay Leno. The question has been when.
Now The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, reports that the hand-off will be made by September 2014, and The New York Times chimes in that Fallon's version of the storied late-night franchise will return to New York, where it first began with Steve Allen in 1954.
Though the network confirmed it is planning a new studio for Fallon, it's declining comment on any hosting moves in late night, which appears to be the least of the network's many problems. Despite a new incursion by ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live in January, Leno remains ahead of both ABC and CBS' David Letterman among both total viewers and the young adults prized by advertisers, even as its prime-time and early-morning fortunes have faltered.
Instead, the Times says, also citing unnamed sources, the motivation may be twofold: Leno's contract ends next year, while NBC is busily trying to sew up Fallon's services so he doesn't bolt to another network such as CBS, which could be planning for the eventual retirement of David Letterman.
But not so fast. NBC made the same promise to Conan O'Brien in 2004, urging him to stay by vowing he'd replace Leno five years later. When Leno was moved to prime time and both of their ratings sagged, NBC reneged and tried to push O'Brien later to midnight, leading him to quit and demand a $43 million payout. And back in 1992, Leno and Letterman fought a bitter rivalry to succeed Johnny Carson. When Leno got the job, Letterman left for CBS.
Perhaps sensing a repeat of the O'Brien drama, Leno is not going along quietly, resorting to the frequent tactic of mocking his NBC bosses on the air. Earlier this week, in a St. Patrick's Day joke, he referred to executives as "snakes," and constantly criticizes the network's weak performance in the ratings.