Jimmy Fallon Faces Impossible 'Tonight Show' Task

By Goodale, Gloria | The Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Jimmy Fallon Faces Impossible 'Tonight Show' Task


Goodale, Gloria, The Christian Science Monitor


Now that speculation has become confirmed fact - Jimmy Fallon will replace Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" next spring - the question many are asking is: Why fix a show that isn't broke? After all, Mr. Leno has been routinely winning his time slot against longtime competitor David Letterman and holding his own against upstart Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.

Can Saturday Night Live alum Mr. Fallon do a better job?

In NBC's eyes, "Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent, and this is his time," NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke told the Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication. "We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1."

But media analysts say NBC is doing its best to find a balance between the disintegrating network television model that "The Tonight Show" dominated for decades and the new viewing patterns among young people, who are as likely to connect with "The Tonight Show" though Twitter as through a TV remote.

While NBC feels Fallon will have broad appeal, his strengths clearly lean toward the younger demographics, analysts say, and that could mean the network will pay a ratings price for its efforts to become more a part of the social media buzz.

"They have to plan for the future, but in order to do that they have to sacrifice the one thing that they have in place, which is a stable audience of older viewers," says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York.

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The network needs to prepare for competition against younger hosts such as Mr. Kimmel, but in order to do that they will risk alienating an audience, he says, "that doesn't care about social media and couldn't care less about viral videos."

Fallon is largely unknown to the older demographic that is the bulk of Leno's audience base, agrees David Bartlett of Levick, a crisis management and strategic planning firm in Washington. "But that younger audience will be around a lot longer."

Some question the wisdom of such a long transition period. In the Hollywood Reporter article, NBC's Mr. Burke suggested that the network wanted to leverage promotion for Fallon with its coverage of the Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia, next February.

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