Though nothing is official, rumors have been swirling that Jimmy Fallon will replace Jay Leno as the host of the The Tonight Show before 2014, and now a studio-sized indication of what the future holds may be rearing it’s head thanks to Bill Carter.
As the author of both The Late Shift and The War for Late Night – books that separately detailed Leno’s ascension to the Tonight Show gig and his stunning re-emergence as host in 2010 (to the detriment of Conan O’Brien) – when Carter speaks on matters pertaining to the late night wars, people tend to listen.
Today, Carter did just that, reporting in The New York Times that NBC is in the process of building one hell of a palace right in the middle of Manhattan and 30 Rockefeller Center for Jimmy Fallon – late night’s presumptive host-to-be.
In the report, Carter states:
“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.
An NBC spokeswoman declined to comment on the move, other than to say the network was building a new state-of-the-art studio for Mr. Fallon.”
Carter also points out that The Tonight Show has been a West Coast operation since 1972, when the Johnny Carson-hosted show moved from New York to Burbank in pursuit of Hollywood adjacency and all the baubles that come with such a prime locale.
But times have changed, and while The Tonight Show‘s California home still has some geographical advantage when booking guests, it isn’t so beneficial that a first slot late night show couldn’t survive 3,000 miles away – David Letterman’s Late Show has been proving that for almost 20 years.
Interestingly enough, if The Tonight Show returns to it’s ancestral home (the show debuted in New York in 1954 with Steve Allen as host), then one person might benefit nominally from being one of the biggest games left in California: Conan O’Brien.
You’ll remember that O’Brien vacated New York in 2009 to take over The Tonight Show after Jay Leno’s first departure, bringing a large chunk of his New York staff from the Late Night show that he had hosted since 1993 with him. That Late Night show is, of course, what Fallon now hosts, in a studio that Johnny Carson once used for his Tonight Show before moving out west. Isn’t life cyclical?
With nothing confirmed, there’s obviously no word regarding why NBC is (allegedly) willing to move The Tonight Show back to New York to appeal to Fallon when they had no interest in doing the same thing for O’Brien. Team Coco will surely take this as another slight and it’ll be interesting to see if O’Brien has anything to say about it.
For that matter, it’ll be really interesting to see how Leno reacts to all of this, especially when it becomes official. Leno’s contract expires in 2014 and his last exile from the Tonight Show didn’t exactly work out for anyone, particularly Conan, but also NBC, which bungled the transition by handing Leno a nightly chat show at 10pm that failed spectacularly.
That move doubtlessly harmed both NBC’s ability to develop hour long dramas and O’Brien’s ability to succeed a man who was still very much in the room. It also irritated some affiliates, prompting NBC to add fuel to the fire by trying to move Leno back to 11:35pm while pushing O’Brien and his neutered Tonight Show to 12:05am.
We all know what happened next, from O’Brien’s exit to Jay Leno’s return and all the fun that rivals Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, and David Letterman had at Leno’s (and NBC’s) expense – a fiasco that NBC can’t afford to repeat. So the real question is, if Leno – who wasn’t ready to retire three years ago – still doesn’t feel like his Tonight Show time has come to an end, what does NBC intend to do about it?
Only time will tell, but sometimes it feels like the behind scenes politics of the late night world are at least half as interesting as the shows themselves.
The Tonight Show airs weeknights on NBC @11:35pm.