David Zurawik

NBC reportedly looking to replace Leno with Jimmy Fallon in latenight

Here we go again with reports that NBC is looking to ditch Jay Leno. But this time, the ditching makes eminent sense.

The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, says NBC is putting the pieces in place to announce in May that Leno will be replaced in latenight  at the end of the 2013-2014 season by Jimmy Fallon.


Why not? Leno, whose contract is up in 2014, is yesterday – and then some. He can still draw overall ratings, but you can't sell overall ratings the way you can sell the 18 to 49 or even 25-54 demographics.

What network wouldn't take a second or third place finish overall in late night with a comedian young people talk about online and on the radio in the morning? And that's Fallon, not Leno.


It fact, it's really not even David Letterman any more on CBS. There is a real opening here for the next generation of latenight hosts and NBC needs to keep Fallon happy to be part of that hunt. And it would be crazy not for the network to be telling its late latenight host the Leno slot is his come 2014.

Fallon has buzz, edge and young viewers. And with ABC having recently moved Jimmy Kimmel into its 11:35 time slot by bumping "Nightline" back, NBC needs to get younger.

But what really makes Fallon so valuable – and separates him from, say, Conan O'Brien,  is his keen cultural instinct. That's what great latenight success really comes down to: plugging into the current of pop culture energy in the country. The great hosts, like Johnny Carson, when they were on a roll, could even occasionally drive the culture itself.

Fallon mostly does it with music as when he got President Obama to slow jam the news with him last April during a show at the University of North Carolina. The edgy fusion of music, politics and Obama's media identity became the kind of moment viewers talked about for days and analysts couldn't stop writing about.

That's latenight buzz, and Leno will never have it. He's scripted- old-old-school: joke, joke, yuk, yuk, thank you and sleep warm, folks.

But you do have to ask: Has any performer ever been treated worse by a network and stuck around longer than Leno? NBC took his time period away, and then, gave it back when things didn't work out. Last year, they cut his staff and his $30 million salary.

This isn't an employer-employee relationship, it's S & M.