It looks like NBC is going to keep firing Jay Leno until they get it right.
Bill Carter (the NY Times correspondent who has done some of the best reporting on the late night wars) just posted a story saying that NBC has made a deal for Jimmy Fallon to take over “The Tonight Show” no later than the fall of next year. That’s when Leno’s latest contract is up, but this time the network’s not moving him into primetime — they’re apparently pushing him out the door, even though he’s still number one in the ratings.
With the exception of “Nightly News with Brian Williams,” I don’t think NBC is dominant in any other daypart (primetime is a disaster without football, and “Today” lost the morning crown to “GMA” months ago), yet this is the one they’re obsessed with fixing. I’m not a big fan of Leno’s “Tonight Show,” and I think Fallon’s done some very clever stuff on his version of “Late Night,” but it’s only been three years since the Conan O’Brien debacle, so I’m surprised they’re pressing the same buttons again so soon.
Speaking of Conan, he seems to have disappeared completely from the pop culture landscape since moving to TBS — there hasn’t been a viral clip from his show in so long I almost forgot he was still on the air. When Fallon takes over, “The Tonight Show” will return to its original home at 30 Rock in New York, leaving Conan to battle with Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson for west coast guests.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Ed Sullivan theater, Letterman’s staff must be developing a plan for who will take over when he hangs it up in a few years. He’s already lasted longer in late night than Johnny Carson, and if he keeps his show on the air past Leno’s finale, he won’t have much else to play for, other than having someplace to go and do the same old thing every day. With rare exceptions, that’s all he’s done for the last few years — and it must kill him to have to suffer through guests like Selena Gomez, who he clearly didn’t care about when she appeared with him earlier this week.
Is Craig Ferguson the heir apparent at CBS? Five years ago, I would have said he was, but his show has also devolved into a predictable mess. His interviews have turned boring because he doesn’t ask questions that encourage his guests to tell good stories, his regular bits and skits have worn out their welcome, and his monologue is no longer as warm, engaging, and funny as it used to be.
So, after Fallon replaces Leno, NBC will still have to find someone new to take over the fourth generation of “Late Night,” and CBS will be searching, too. Don’t even bring up Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who have carved unique niches for themselves in the late night landscape and shouldn’t consider leaving their current perches at Comedy Central.
Who has the skill set to host an hour-long network talk show? There aren’t many, but to begin the speculation, here are two names I’d throw into the mix:
- Kevin Pollak. As an actor, he’s worked with everybody. As a comedian, he can handle a monologue and knows his way around a TV studio. As a host, his online interview show (Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show) has included some fascinating conversations.
- Mark Maron, another successful internet interview entrepreneur. His “WTF” podcasts have a large following and a great guest list, made all the more impressive by the fact that he usually records them in his garage.
Who else ya got?