'Tonight Show' Switch? Why Jimmy Fallon Is Creating So Much Buzz

Article excerpt

"The Tonight Show" is back in the headlines again, and for a familiar reason.

A New York Times report suggests that NBC will be moving the show to New York City and has committed to Jimmy Fallon, who now hosts NBC's "Late Night," as the next host. Meanwhile, current "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno is throwing verbal jibes at his NBC bosses, calling them "snakes" in his Monday monologue only days after the Times story broke.

For NBC's marquee franchise, succession issues have never been easy. The clash between Mr. Leno and David Letterman over who would follow Johnny Carson, who retired as host in 1992, spawned a book (The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno and the Network Battle for the Night) and an HBO movie. And in 2010, the botched attempt to replace Leno with Conan O'Brien tarnished both hosts and the show.

The stakes are high. "The Tonight Show" has been a comparative success amid a years-long run of dismal ratings for NBC, and Mr. Fallon stands to inherit arguably the top seat in television entertainment. Amid predictions of the death of late-night television, the rumblings reveal its still-sizable influence.

These transitions have been so incredibly ham-handed, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. But all the attention theyve gotten shows that people still really care, despite all the talk that TV has become a dinosaur. It shows this really does matter.

So far, NBC has not confirmed any of the reports, saying only that it is upgrading Fallon's studio in New York as part of a larger renovation of the building. But if NBC does move to Fallon, the network would seem to be acknowledging the changes in the television landscape and attempting to keep up with them.

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Lenos contract expires in 2014, and NBC is faced with a challenge for younger viewers from ABCs "Jimmy Kimmel Live." But the challenge goes well beyond Mr. Kimmel. Although the format for late-night TV has changed remarkably little in 50 years a nice host, a humorous sidekick, a bandleader, a desk, and a sofa the way younger audiences consume it has.

My students dont watch the Tonight Show or Late Night they prefer to watch excerpts later on their computers using YouTube, says Charles Coletta, who teaches the history of popular culture at Bowling Green University in Ohio. …