Stop us if you’ve heard this before: NBC is thinking about a succession plan for “The Tonight Show” that would have the current host of “Late Night,” who has a lot of cachet among younger viewers, take over for Jay Leno when Leno’s contract is up in a couple years.
Yes, it’s like 2004 all over again, when NBC announced — five years out — that Conan O’Brien would take over for Leno in 2009. He did, briefly, only to suffer meager ratings — possibly due in part to the network’s scheduling of the prime-time “Jay Leno Show” at 10 p.m. that fall — and one of the uglier showbiz exits in recent memory.
The possible successor this time, though, is Jimmy Fallon. The New York Daily News reports talent agents have received feelers from NBC about finding a new “Late Night” host in 2014. That’s when Leno’s current contract ends and when, presumably, NBC might try to make the shift to a new “Tonight” host. Leno has been the show’s host for 19 years, making him the second longest-serving host after Johnny Carson.
“The Tonight Show” remains the ratings leader among late-night talk shows, although it’s not as dominant as it once was. So far this season Leno is averaging 3.5 million viewers and a 0.8 rating among adults 18-49, compared to 3.1 million and 0.7. for CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.” ABC’s “Nightline” (3.9 million) actually leads both talk shows in viewers in their common time period.
NBC hasn’t publicly commented on the long-term future of “The Tonight Show.” Maybe that will help this time around.