Leno's Future, Letterman's Plan: 5 Big Questions in NBC's 'Tonight Show' Shake-up
Jimmy Fallon Thanks Jay Leno on 'Late Night'
With NBC confirming Wednesday what most insiders already knew -- Jimmy Fallon will take over for Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show in spring 2014 -- attention is turning to the fallout from the decision. Here are five burning questions, including what's next for Leno and what this all means for Late Night:
1. Who replaces Fallon at Late Night?
While one source suggests that NBC still is considering its options, others note that Fallon's Late Night chair is Seth Meyers’ to lose. Working in Meyers' favor is a lengthy history with NBC as Saturday Night Live’s long-tenured writer and "Weekend Update" funnyman. He's also got a producer and mentor in SNL creator Lorne Michaels, who quietly has pulled many of the strings at the network of late. What’s more, Meyers has a built-in brand on TV and online, where he regularly tweets to his 1.8 million Twitter followers. Still, after Conan O'Brien and Fallon, there will be those who argue Meyers does little to shake things up for a tired genre, instead offering NBC more of the same: another thirtysomething white male with SNL on his résumé. To date, Meyers has stayed mum on his plans.
2. Where does Leno go next?
Leno is not expected to make any quick decisions with regard to his next steps, say two people with knowledge of the comedian’s plans. More likely, he will ramp up his stand-up career in the near term and will weigh whatever options come his way. While the latter likely won’t be as lucrative as Tonight, which pays him roughly $15 million a year (down 40 percent after a recent salary cut), there will be options. "Syndication makes some sense or a cable network like USA that doesn't reach super-young [viewers]," says one late-night TV source. "I could see someone like that doing it but no one else."
Of course, the option most bandied about is a late-night show on Fox, a possibility that was worked into his skit with Fallon on April 1. Fox affiliate board chairman Steve Pruett recently told The New York Post that if the network were to present "the right business plan, the affiliate board would be interested." But Fox weighed the option of luring O'Brien when he was pushed out at Tonight and ultimately decided it did not make economic sense. And one top Fox insider notes that luring Leno this time would be highly unlikely as well. What's more, according to one top-level NBCUniversal source, NBC's decision to move forward with the Tonight handoff was based in part on a calculation that Leno would not readily find a new home at Fox or elsewhere that would make him a threat. “I find it hard to believe that if they couldn’t clear Conan [with their affiliates] that they would do it with an almost-65-year-old and give him a five-year contract,” that source tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Outside of the Fox stations, syndication could prove a real challenge. Tribune already has locked up Arsenio Hall for a late-night debut this fall, though some suggest there is a world in which Tribune as well as WGN could become options for Leno. Also worth noting: If Hall succeeds, it will provide a vote of confidence for other syndicators that might consider taking another stab at the competitive genre. Still, many of the other independent stations already have made commitments to off-net sitcoms such as 2 Broke Girls or Modern Family for the foreseeable future. And, as one source puts it, benching Leno for a year or so is unlikely because the host, who works 24/7 on TV and in comedy clubs, isn't interested in sitting out. A source told THR on March 27: "He doesn't need the money, and he doesn't spend the money. Being on the air is much more important to him."