Yes, this again.
Four years ago, Jay Leno passed the “Tonight Show” torch to then-”Late Night” host Conan O’Brien, who had apparently been promised the flagship gig way back in 2004. Leno, however, was not as willing to depart as initial reports suggested, and he ended up receiving a nightly primetime series “The Jay Leno Show.”
The programming strategy–running “Leno” at 10PM, local news at 11PM and “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” at 11:35PM–flopped. The Leno ratings were disappointing, leading to upset affiliates. And between the awkward scheduling and O’Brien’s failure to hook late-night viewers the way Leno did, “The Tonight Show” also found itself in a tough spot.
In a move that resulted in a costly severance with O’Brien, NBC ultimately decided to return “The Tonight Show” to Leno. His heir apparent would be current “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon, although given what had happened, no one was speculating when Leno would finally pass the torch for good.
But if a report from THR is to be believed, that occasion might finally be next year.
The THR story, though unconfirmed by anyone at NBC, says the network is eyeing the 2013-14 season as the final one for Leno. Leno would sign off from “The Tonight Show” in May 2014, giving Fallon the opportunity for a summer “soft launch” before the formal debut in the fall of 2014.
Though Fallon’s ratings are not massive, he has developed significant favorability in the “Late Night” Gig. Critics, celebrity guests and viewers often praise Fallon’s energy and presence, and the feeling is that he would be particularly helpful in warding off new young adult competition from “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which recently moved to the 11:35PM timeslot occupied by “Tonight” and “Late Show with David Letterman.”
If NBC moves ahead with this plan, it would likely announce Leno’s retirement during May upfronts.