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.
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.
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!
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.
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