What might Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight Show' be like?
NBC confirmed Wednesday that "The Tonight Show" host of more than two decades, Jay Leno, will be replaced by the network's "Late Night" star, Jimmy Fallon, in the spring of 2014.
The changeover also means the show will move back to New York City, the home base for Fallon and new executive producer Lorne Michaels, after being broadcast from Burbank since 1972.
What other changes we can expect the younger Fallon and the longtime producer of "Saturday Night Live" will bring to the legendary program remain to be seen. But if it resembles his current show, it's likely to mean an emphasis on skits instead of a longer opening monologue, and more social media interaction appealing to a younger audience.
"Probably more sketch stuff, maybe some more improvisational elements," reckoned Ray Richmond, former TV critic for the Los Angeles Daily News and currently a correspondent for the showbiz news site deadline.com. "Taking advantage of his musical skills and his mimickry skills. There will probably be some elements that look more like 'SNL' than 'The Tonight Show.' "
Mary Murphy, professor of entertainment business and media at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, predicted that Fallon's already formidable digital presence he has more than 8 million Twitter followers compared to Leno's 500,000-plus, and regularly books guests from the tech and video gaming worlds will be emphasized on the new "Tonight."
And it better be.
"They're going to have to do what everyone has been trying to do, which is reinvent this," observed Murphy, who has covered the industry for "Entertainment Tonight," TV Guide and Esquire magazine. "Reinvent it in a way that appeals to the social media generation, and that is where I think there'll be some change. They have got to incorporate social media into that show. They have to appeal to the people who are going to watch the show on their computers. Very few people in the 18-29 demographic are ever going to watch it on TV."
Murphy noted that when she asked her USC students whom they'd prefer to host "Tonight," the overwhelming majority were emphatically for Fallon.
NBCUniversal did not respond to requests for comment beyond a press release announcing the change, but it is generally assumed that, even though the 62-year-old Leno still enjoys the best ratings of any late night talk show, the network hopes Fallon, 38, will attract a younger, more advertiser-desired viewer demographic.
ABC's Jimmy Kimmel has drawn a large share of young adults since he moved from the early a.m. start time opposite Fallon into the time slot that directly competes with "Tonight." That's obviously gotten NBC's attention; however, Fallon will have to win a portion of his basic audience back from Kimmel and from Conan O'Brien, who now also competes on TBS after first replacing and then being ousted by Leno on "Tonight" a few years back.Â NBC may be more patient with Fallon, though.
"It's going to be tough for Fallon to siphon viewers away from Kimmel because Kimmel is already established," Richmond observed. "But NBC is obviously looking to the future, and they're willing to take a hit in the short term in order to shore up their future. Of course, Conan is now competing, too, over on cable. And you have cable beating NBC's pants off a lot of times in prime time these days."
As for that loyal, older, mainly between-the-coasts audience Leno developed, well, hanging on to some of them may be Fallon's secret strength.
"He is a more likable, playful character" than most of his late night competitors, Murphy suggested. "So I think that it's a wise choice, wiser than Conan for sure. Fallon has a broader appeal, Conan has an edgier appeal. Fallon skews into an older demographic as well as a younger."
"We are purposefully making this change when Jay is #1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was #1," NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke said in the network's press release. "Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time. I'm thrilled he will become the sixth host of 'The Tonight Show' at exactly the right moment."
Of course, for the people who work on the program in Burbank, there was no right moment for the news of "The Tonight Show's" return to New York. That's about 170 folks, few of whom are expected to relocate with the show to 30 Rock, since Fallon and Michaels are already staffed-up there.
"I'm highly disappointed in their action," said Susan Cabral-Ebert, president of IATSE Local 706, the guild that represents "Tonight Show" makeup artists and hair stylists here. "To lose this many jobs is devastating.
"They just keep raising the tax incentive in New York to where we can't compete, and we're losing the economy here, as far as I can see," Cabral-Ebert added.
New York recently added a new category to the state's already generous production tax incentives program that seemed specifically designed to lure a show like "Tonight" to Manhattan. But Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, a former state assemblyman who helped create California's first (and still far smaller than New York's) incentive program, is convinced that money was not the driving reason for "Tonight's" relocation.
"It is clearly a creative decision that's being made entirely around two people, the host and the producer," Krekorian said. "They're the people that they wanted, they're New York based, and the show would have to move to accommodate them."
Krekorian added that he has been in regular contact with NBCUniversal executives, and that they expressed commitment to ramping up other kinds of production in Southern California that will more than offset local "Tonight Show" job losses.
And he said we shouldn't feel bad when we hear New Yorkers gloat. But Krekorian did quip that "I should just say right now that if I'm ever invited to guest host 'Saturday Night Live,' I'm gonna turn 'em down."