Comedian Seth Meyers. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Time Warner)
Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
Late night is turning into a musical chairs game at NBC.
As reports swirl that NBC plans to have Jimmy Fallon succeed Tonight Show host Jay Leno by 2014, the latest speculation has Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers replacing Fallon on Late Night, which follows The Tonight Show.
The New York Post's "Page Six" quotes an unnamed source as saying SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who is executive producer of Late Night but does not have control of the host appointment, wants Meyers to succeed Fallon. Meyers was in the running to replace Regis Philbin on his morning talk show, a job won by Michael Strahan.
Late-night chatter began when The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, reported that Fallon, who has been groomed to succeed Leno, would take over by September 2014. A story in The New York Times said a Fallon Tonight Show would move from Los Angeles back to New York, where Steve Allen started the franchise in 1954.
The network declined to comment on any of the hosting reports. The only thing confirmed is that Fallon is getting a new set.
NBC is likely taking a longer-term look if it is thinking of replacing Leno with the younger Fallon, says David Scardino, entertainment specialist at advertising firm RPA. It may want Fallon to blunt any move of advertiser-coveted young adults toward Jimmy Kimmel, who moved to the 11:35 p.m. ET/PT slot on ABC in January, he says.
"NBC has that concern and has for some time about Leno and his audience getting older and his appeal to younger people, which is part of an industry-wide problem for television in general," Scardino says.
Leno has been at the center of late-night controversies in the past. In 1992, he beat out David Letterman to succeed late-night king Johnny Carson. In 2009, Conan O'Brien, now at TBS, briefly took over the Tonight Show desk, with Leno moving to prime time. When ratings fell for both, NBC tried to push O'Brien back a half hour to accommodate Leno, but O'Brien quit, demanding an eight-figure payout.
Fallon, in an interview in April's GQ, expressed no burning desire to host The Tonight Show. "It would be great, sure, I guess. I'd love it, but it's not on my mind. I'm in no rush to do anything. I'm kind of a boring character in that book. I'm not in a fight with Jay or Conan, or any of them. I don't have that story."
For all the talk, late night is one of the brighter spots for slumping NBC, which is facing difficulties in the prime time and early morning hours. Leno, who frequently jokes about NBC's problems, is ahead of CBS' Letterman and ABC's Kimmel in viewers and advertiser-coveted young adults.
The Post also quotes the head of Fox's affiliate board, which represents more than 200 Fox stations, as saying those affiliates would be interested in a new 11 p.m. ET/PT show starring Leno, should he leave NBC.
"Fox has no plans for a late-night show at this time," the network says in a statement.
Scardino says a Leno move to Fox could help establish a late-night franchise for the network, but that the same question regarding younger viewers eventually would arise.