Okay, are you guys sitting down?
So, you’ve heard the rumors about Jimmy Fallon taking over The Tonight Show from dick-chinned angel of Satan Jay Leno, right? Well, Bill Carter — THE source for all things related to late night television, who in his piece cites “several senior television executives involved in the decision” — just reported that the rumors are true and the show will relocate to New York in 2014.
Reports the New York Times:
While the network has yet to complete a deal, it has made a commitment to Jimmy Fallon, the current host of its “Late Night” program, to have him succeed Jay Leno as the next host of “Tonight,’’ according to several senior television executives involved in the decision. The show would move from Burbank, Calif., back to New York, where it first started in 1954 with Steve Allen as host.
Some details remain to be worked out, including an exact timetable for the switch, though it is expected to take place by the fall of 2014 at the latest, the executives said in interviews this week.
NBC has quietly begun work on a new studio in its headquarters building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza as the home for the new “Tonight” show. The studio is part of a general reconstruction of the building being undertaken by Comcast, which this week completed a full takeover of NBC Universal.
That sound you hear is Jay Leno reaching for a knife to insert squarely into Fallon’s back. You just know ole Jay ain’t giving up the reigns without a fight. Especially seeing as how his ratings are still relatively high.
The relationship between Mr. Leno and NBC became strained recently when the host told some jokes on his show about NBC’s poor performance in prime time, initiating a hostile e-mail exchange with Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment.
On Wednesday NBC said the conflict with Mr. Leno was being smoothed over.
Another complicating factor has been Mr. Leno’s continued success in the ratings.
When he was replaced by Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Leno was a dominant No. 1 in the late-night competition, and was unhappy to be asked to try to initiate a prime-time hour. When that show failed, and Mr. Leno was re-instated on “Tonight,’’ he eventually was able to regain his leadership in the ratings.
Indeed, Mr. Leno, as he often has in his career, has proved unexpectedly resilient in the ratings. In recent weeks, he has continued to finish first — always in the category of total viewers and usually among viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, the most sought-after age group for late-night advertisers.
As one of the executives involved in the planning of the shift to Mr. Fallon put it: “And then Jay manages to stay ahead of Kimmel. How often has that guy been underestimated?”
Watch out, Jimmy. The man outfoxed Letterman and Conan. He’s capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat again with you.
Coincidentally, GQ has a big profile on Fallon out today titled, “Jimmy Fallon: The New King of Late Night” (Nice timing, GQ editors!) where he talked about his ascension into comedy.
“NBC was like, ‘This is going to flop,’ ” Fallon recalls. ” ‘This is going to be like Chevy Chase’s show.’ ” That legendary catastrophe was pulled from the air after just one month. “They were comparing me to that.”
The point is, Fallon knew he was an odd choice—he got it. He had his writers use it almost immediately. “You loved him on SNL!” show announcer Steve Higgins declared in an early skit. “You hated him in the movies! Now you’re ambivalent.”
Fallon wasn’t edgy. Fallon wasn’t dark or complicated. Fallon was perhaps too cute for late-night audiences used to hanging out with the snarky, cool crowd. “Yeah, the cool crowd was always beyond my grasp,” he says. He means this literally. “Like, my parents had a fence, a chain-link fence, and my sister and I were not allowed outside it.” This was in upstate New York—Saugerties, Irish Catholic, strict. “I was only allowed to ride my bike in my backyard,” he says. He rode in a circle, round and round, carving a dirt track. “Like Gus the polar bear at the zoo? That was me. Kids would say, ‘What are you doing, man? Come out.’ I was like, ‘I can’t.’ We got a rope swing. On a tree. We had to wear football helmets to ride the swing. Kids could see us. They would pull up on their bikes so they could watch the Fallon kids, so weird. You know, ‘Why are you wearing football helmets?’ We’re like, ‘So we don’t hit our heads!’ “
His parents had parties; that was the entertainment. “Parties where everyone drinks and performs. I did a Rodney Dangerfield act.” He studied Dangerfield’s No Respect album—minus the curse words. His dad, as family lore goes, had located all the bad words on the vinyl recording and painstakingly scratched them out with a car key. “I would listen over and over. I didn’t know what the word was. I didn’t care. I wanted the jokes.”
A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants, said the quote under his high school yearbook picture. He dropped out of college his senior year to pursue comedy in L.A., where Michaels found him, laughed at his Adam Sandler impersonation, even though Michaels famously never laughed during auditions. Seeing Michaels bury his face in his hands, crack up like that, it answered everything. “Every birthday cake I cut,” he says. “Every shooting star, every coin in the fountain, I wished: SNL.”
Watch your back, Jimmy. Just watch your back.