Jay Leno is no laughing matter for NBC

A second departure for the popular host looks increasingly likely, and it could go wrong again in so many ways.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 22, 2013 8:45AM
File photo of Jay Leno in July 2011 (© Matt Sayles/AP Photo)Less than a month after Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC denied a report in the Hollywood Reporter that it was prepared to replace Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" comes a detailed story in The New York Times indicating that's precisely what's going to happen.

According to the Times' well-respected TV writer Bill Carter, NBC has promised the "Tonight Show" job to Jimmy Fallon and is even prepared to spend big bucks to relocate the show to New York City from Burbank, Calif. The switch, according to Carter, will take place by the fall of 2014 at the latest.

This is a huge gamble for Philadelphia-based Comcast for many reasons.

Getting rid of Leno may not be easy or cheap. Although his contract doesn't expire until next year, the relationship between the veteran host and NBC continues to deteriorate. Things may get even more awkward as NBC tries to negotiate a new deal with Fallon, the host of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," and create a graceful exit for Leno, who may ask for and get big bucks to leave the stage early.

The 62-year-old Leno remains quite popular, even though he isn't the favorite of some comedy mavens such as Jimmy Kimmel. And there's no guarantee that Fallon's audience will follow his move to "The Tonight Show," either.

As the network itself noted in a well-timed press release, Leno has delivered bigger audiences in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic coveted by advertisers than CBS' (CBS) "The Late Show With David Letterman" and has beaten "Jimmy Kimmel Live" for eight of the 10 weeks they have competed head-to-head in the same time slot.

The problem in advertisers' eyes is that Leno mainly attracts the wrong crowd. His overall audience has an average age of 58.1, way too old for youth-obsessed Madison Avenue. Marketers want to reach younger viewers whose brand loyalties are thought to be not as established as those of older ones.

Letterman has the same problem because his audience has an average age of  57.5. Kimmel's fans are comparative spring chickens averaging 54.1, while Fallon's audience averages 52.6.

Where are the much younger viewers? On cable. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Viacom's (VIA) Comedy Central attract viewers in their late 30s and early 40s. The audience for Chelsea Handler on Comcast's E! averages 35.

If NBC botches Leno's second departure, it risks another public relations disaster. Many of Conan O'Brien's viewers never forgave NBC for pushing the red-haired comic out the door in 2010 to bring Leno back to "The Tonight Show" after his prime-time show flopped.

O'Brien's current bosses at TBS, which is owned by Time Warner (TWX), were pleased enough with his ratings to extend his contract for the "Conan" show last year. O'Brien may have the last laugh in Leno soap opera: At 35 years old, his audience is the youngest in the late night crowd.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Mar 22, 2013 9:53AM
No body will ever beat or will be as good as Johnny Carson.  The pranks he pulled, whether walking the tight rope erected in the studio with Karl Wallenda, the throwing of the tomahawk with Ed Ames, the conversation with Lonesome George Gobel and Dean Martin, Bob Hope are all historic when it comes to late night entertainment.......Rest In Peace Johnny....we will always miss you.
Mar 22, 2013 11:56AM
People that decided this at Comcast or NBC have it all wrong. They say they want younger viewers...Why!!! The biggest population now are the Babyboomers and they have cash. Jay Leno works why change the formula, you tried it once and it knock you to the ground. Learn from your big mistakes!
Mar 22, 2013 10:54AM
Reality is that only older viewers want to watch those shows. Younger one are on computer or doing night life. They will need lot more than change in face or style to herald in younger viewer: The innovation, as risky as they come. Roll the dice
Mar 22, 2013 1:02PM

Ahh is NBC being disrespectful to us seniors----thee largest population in this country. Sure sounds like it when they use age brackets of say 57-58 years old watch the show.


See ya NBC As I cannot and will not support prejudicial practice against us Boomers!

And that is obviously what you are doing and all your programs illustrate this warped value of yours and yours alone!

Mar 22, 2013 11:30AM
Communistcast is already at it destroying NBC.
They touch something and break it.
Good job. 
Mar 22, 2013 1:11PM
Sorry but when Jay leaves so do I.  Jimmy Fallon is the least funniest of all the late night hosts.  NBC is shooting themselves in the foot.
Mar 22, 2013 12:44PM
Life, as I know it, will never be the same after LENO.  He has brought the type of entertainment that Johnny Carson would have enjoyed!  I like Jimmy Fallon - but not enough for this time slot, and not in New York!  Is NBC committing suicide???
Mar 22, 2013 1:07PM
Only 3 things for certain in life: death, taxes, and that i will not be watcing Jimmy Fallon.
Mar 22, 2013 12:55PM
I'm not a big fan of Jay Leno but I do enjoy him taking shots at NBC. Those morons deserve everything they've got coming. I thing Leno is burning the bridge this time to ensure that the execs won't come knocking when Fallon falls on his face.
Mar 22, 2013 1:23PM
Here is one for ya... Carson was more free to speak his mind etc than any of the late night crowd in place, and that was 35 years ago !  If you are not 50 or 60 yrs old you don't realize the impact of the PC world in place now. Like an invisible hand it mutes almost all true free thinking, comedy writing, and speaking funneling it into only acceptable avenues for the sheep to lap up. ie  you may criticize this,,, but not that... etc
Mar 22, 2013 10:13AM
If they put that loser in to replace Jay I'm done and moving it to that CRAP HOLE- NEW YORK screw them and all they do I'll never watch again if this happens!!!!!
Mar 22, 2013 1:09PM
jay leno is a proven commodity, where fallon is fun for awhile then fades.
Mar 22, 2013 12:54PM
Is anyone else sick of this contrived drama. Every five years NBC tries to recreate the Letterman Drama. And when did Kimmel become a "Comedy Maven" ? Hollywood has been trying to force feed us this guy for 25 years. Who's he related to that after so many failed shows and years of barely making the D list they're still trying to make him a star ? He must kiss a$$ and work for peanuts. The only reason the Big three networks have any viewers late at night is because all the elderly fall asleep with the TV on after the local news. And the rest of their viewers are too cheap to buy Cable so they aren't that attractive to advertisers.
Mar 22, 2013 1:12PM
The younger viewers are too busy watching the mindless and FAR too many reality shows.  If these people would get a life of their own, they wouldn't feel the need to glom on to what is going on in other's lives.  If the network decided to turn the "Tonight Show" into a reality show, viewership would go through the roof.  Nobody could compare to Johnny Carson.  I loved Carnac the Magnificent and any time animal handlers were guests.  It was very amusing how Johnny squirmed and acted so tentative and nervous around the more exotic animals.
Mar 22, 2013 12:44PM

The problem with moving from the 12:35 slot to the premium 11:35 slot is that the act has to change. Much of the edginess that made Letterman such a hit had to evaporate when he went to 11:35. And the same will happen with Fallon.


Craig Ferguson is my far-and-away favorite late-night host these days. But if he takes Dave's slot in a year or so, the incredibly funny and witty blue humor he has mastered will have to disappear. And that will be a shame.

Mar 22, 2013 1:04PM
Just one in a continuing series of blunders at NBC.   Haven't had time to check Snopes, but there is a rumor that the next edition of Rogets will have **** and NBC as synonyms.  Seriously, the Today show is a farce - even more of a farce than GMA, believe it or not -, it no longer makes any pretense of being a show about anything except its personalities.  Even if a good bit is scheduled, it rarely makes it on the air, as the "personalities" are so busy hogging the camera and spouting extraneous nonsense, that the sequence goes to commercial without ever getting started.  Conan was and is a no-talent cl****, a 10 year old boy whose sense of what is funny runs to farting in the bathtub.  Glad he is a Dane rather than a real Celt.  Their (NBC's) programming is so biased it is painful to watch.  A top to bottom housecleaning is about the only thing that could help them.  They are a prime example of keep doing whatever you are doing that is hurting until it kills you.  Kind of like an alcoholic that can't quit.
Mar 22, 2013 1:02PM
the tv crowd is older and the crowds watching where HUGE in the 1960's and 1970's today you have 130 channels to watch vs three
Mar 22, 2013 12:35PM
No mention of Craig Ferguson? This article is a joke.
Mar 22, 2013 1:39PM
Stop messing with Leno and keep him.  Fallon is good, but Leno should stay for the rest of his contract.  NBC is in last place in the ratings.  Leno is one of the few things that NBC has going for it.
Mar 22, 2013 4:04PM
NBC is run by morons. They screwed Conan. Ann Curry was blown out on Today and they are now in the tank with Matt and "his girls". Leno will stay in LA and go to FOX and ruin Fallon. NBC will lose big time. They deserve it.
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