Why NBC is rolling the dice with Jimmy Fallon

Given the premium advertisers place on younger viewers, it's a risk the network has to take.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 3, 2013 6:45PM

Jimmy Fallon is replacing Jay Leno as the host of Finally, something has gone right for NBC.

The Comcast (CMCSA)-owned network has finally reached late-night nirvana. As The New York Times' Bill Carter predicted on March 21, Jimmy Fallon will replace Jay Leno as the host of the long-running "Tonight" show in 2014. It is the exact scenario that NBC "categorically denied" was in the works when it was suggested by the Hollywood Reporter in early March.

If you read Carter's story posted online Wednesday, it's as if the last few weeks never happened. Leno is quoted saying he wasn't shoved aside, unlike the 2010 coup, and that "the main difference between this and the other time is I’m part of the process." Fallon added, “I have nothing but respect for Jay. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have a show to be taking over."


Setting aside all of the Hollywood back-slapping, this is a risky move. For Fallon to succeed, he will need to bring his existing audience to the "Tonight" show without alienating Leno's millions of fans. At the same time, he'll be expected to draw viewers away from ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, not to mention Viacom's (VIAB) Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and a host of other cable offerings.


Fallon's success is far from certain, but considering the premium advertisers place on younger viewers -- who increasingly tune out television altogether -- it's a risk that Philadelphia-based Comcast must take.

When Leno and David Letterman first became stars in the 1980s, late night television was at the center of the cultural zeitgeist. It was by definition young and hip. The problem is that many of those young viewers from the 1980s are the same ones watching the shows today, which makes them 20 to 30 years older and far less desirable to advertisers.

The median age for viewers of both "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and CBS' (CBS) "The Late Show with David Letterman" is in the mid-50s. Strangely enough, the younger hosts of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" also attract viewers that top 50 years old on average. 

Meanwhile, on Time Warner's (TWX) TBS, Conan O'Brien's viewers are around 35 years old on average, which explains why his contract was renewed. The audiences for Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Chelsea Handler average in the mid-30s as well. Kimmel, for his part, has seen his viewership skew younger since Disney's (DIS) ABC began running his show opposite Leno and Letterman earlier this year. That's one reason Leno is being replaced.

Speaking of Letterman, it's only a matter of time before he starts to feel the same forces that pushed Leno to depart.

--Jonathan Berr owns a small stake in CBS. Follow him on Twitter at @jdberr.

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Apr 3, 2013 8:23PM
These are the same executives who brought NBC down to #5.  Leno is the only program that has been consistently No. 1 in it's time slot.  At least they're consistent in their screw-ups.  They all talk about bringing in a younger demographic; but, there's alot of us who watch late night television that are over the age of 45.  And no,  goofy Lettterman is not a choice.
Apr 3, 2013 8:59PM

fallon is not funny. this will be an epic fail.


Apr 3, 2013 8:48PM
the fact is Leno has the highest rated T.V. late night talk show . nothing against fallon but he ain't  no leno just like leno was no carson . first : fallon to me SHOULD NOT  do a monolog . he's the worlds worst at it.  Second :  the band Roots has got to go . they are very limited on what they can play. they are not even in the same category as Lenos are Lettermans bands . absolutely no comparison . if comcast ( NBC ) wants to continue to be on top in the late night war . these two things will have to take place.  if not (NBC)  might as well start showing movies late night.
Apr 4, 2013 1:27AM
Why is the young demographic so important?  The first time I ever had money to spare (to spend on things) is when the kids left home - about age 42  The advertisers should want THAT demographic.
Apr 4, 2013 1:13AM
I have been watching the Tonight Show since Jack Parr and Steve Allen were on and i guess it is time to stop,if nbc has no regard for my sensitivities,i should have no regard for their ratings.Fallon is a no class,no integrity and no talent PUNK !I will stop watching no later than 6/30/13,i'll find something else to watch,even if they change course again.
Apr 3, 2013 11:39PM
So isn't it time someone booted Matt Lowery?
Apr 4, 2013 6:17AM
Apr 3, 2013 9:02PM
Another PS...I love Leno. Hope he has a surprise in store for us.
Apr 4, 2013 12:24AM

"those young viewers from the 1980's are the same ones watching the shows today, which makes them 20 to 30 years older"


See NBC, this is your problem.  The Tonight Show is the time slot leader due to the larger available  demographic watching by choice.  I like Jimmy Fallon where he is.  I highly dought myself and millions of others who regularly watch will return if you give Jay the shaft AGAIN. 


Current choices pogramming excutives presently have displayed have allowed you to loose your edge in viewers, #5. We read about it regularly here.  One example is with the sh!t pulled on Ms Ann Curry. You should kick Lauer to the curb instead, bring back your viewership in the mornings.  Whitney, The Voice, The Tonight Show and SVU are the only night programming worth a tinkers damn right now. You silly basttaards will never learn.  Who is the biggest demographic right now, age group?  We are your target market.


Apr 4, 2013 9:23AM
Leno's last show will be the last time I watch the Tonight Show.
Letterman makes me want to open a vein and Fallon is great if you have a mental age of 16.
And the Roots SUCK!!!

Apr 3, 2013 10:00PM
NBC: not betting correctly, Jimmy Fallon is not funny, Chelsea, barf, calling Letterman a comedian is comedy in itself, what a woodchuck, Conan, can't remember ever seeing him on TV, must be on real, real late, all these wanna be funny people, funny they're not, but Jay, well Jay doesn't need to try to be fake funny, he knows how to deliver a line, let the humor take its own path, doesn't spew the liberal hate like Letterman, spreads the sociable abuse fairly evenly across the spectrum, uses wit to temper the arrogant, the kind of guy that an average person would probably be comfortable around, just hanging out and having a beer, Letterman I don't think so, unless you were a Sean Penn or another pen head busting on conservatives. Besides, Jay's a car guy, easy to identify with, it will be interesting to see if he gives Fox a shot, I say go for it Jay, they are a lot closer to fair and balanced than the mutts you been hanging with and you got plenty of good laughs left.
Apr 3, 2013 9:33PM

How soon are they cancelling Fallon's show?

Apr 3, 2013 9:03PM

The left eat their own all the time..one step out of line and Jay became dinner.

Apr 4, 2013 9:49AM
NBC has been a dog since they started letting the Saturday Night Live crowd start running their network. Fallon will fail.
Apr 3, 2013 11:37PM
i watch Conan...but he's just not that funny to me. 
Apr 4, 2013 8:30AM

The big difference between Letterman and the others?  Dave owns his own show.  If he decides to bow out, he has the option to pick his own successor.  CBS has the option to cancel his show either way, but they would then have to bear the costs of producing their own show as a replacement.  That's why they've stuck with him all these years, despite his show's ratings almost always running behind Leno's.

Apr 4, 2013 1:43AM
Sorry Jimmy. I'll be sticking with Jonny and Steve.
Apr 3, 2013 11:30PM
Bring back Steve Allen- SCHMOCK  SCHMOCK
Apr 3, 2013 10:57PM
Fallon is not great at monologues. He does however do great skits. I can tell the people commenting are older. Older people don't really care for Fallon. 
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