Jay Leno to leave 'Tonight' in February 2014*

leno2.jpgThe late-night host signed off on NBC's plan to have Jimmy Fallon take over early next year, right after the Winter Olympics. The network also announced that the show will be moving to NY from Burbank. Unlike Leno's previous departure from the coveted 11:35 slot to a doomed prime-time program, the network's decision appears to be going down well. Leno tells the NYT: "The main difference between this and the other time is I'm part of the process. The last time the decision was made without me. I came into work one day and -- you're out." This time around "there really aren't any complications like there were the last time," he added. "This time it feels right." More from the Times:

[Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal] called Mr. Leno on March 20 and expressed concern about the speculation surrounding his status. Mr. Burke flew to Los Angeles the following Sunday and met for an hour with Mr. Leno and ["Tonight" executive producer Debbie Vickers] at the "Tonight" offices in Burbank. He assured Mr. Leno that he wanted him to feel comfortable with the transition plan, and that the host could stay on to the last day of his contract next September if that was his choice. Mr. Leno said he told Mr. Burke: "I appreciate that, but it's not really necessary. And I don't want to make it harder for Jimmy. I want to hand off something that's going to make it easier." Mr. Leno said he suggested, "If we really want to give him a good send-off, how about after the Olympics?" He said the Winter Games in February would give NBC the chance to promote the new host to big audiences and avoid more competitive start-up times like the summer. " 'The Tonight Show' was No. 1 when I got it," Mr. Leno said. "I've kept it No. 1 one for about 90 percent of my term here, and I would like to see Jimmy keep it at No. 1, which I'm sure he will."

Now that Leno is out, the obvious question is what will Fallon be inheriting. His median viewer age is 53.3, which isn't all that younger than Leno's 58.1. Also, the number of 18-49 viewers who watch Fallon has fallen 7 percent from 2012, against 10 percent with Leno. Then there's the souring financial picture. From THR:

Network sources say Tonight now generates just $30 million to $40 million a year in profit -- a far cry from the $150 million the storied franchise made during the heyday of broadcast late night. Tonight booked $255 million in ad revenue in 2007 compared to $146 million in 2012, a decline of more than 42 percent in five years, according to Kantar Media. CBS, which has a transition of its own looming with 65-year-old Letterman, has suffered similar ad declines in the space (though CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves has always said Late Show is Letterman's until he wants to leave). "You can just see what's happening in [late night]," says one source. "The longer you wait, the more it gets fractured and smaller, less relevant."

The Reporter piece cited buzz about how NBC should eliminate Fallon's old 12:35 slot and extent "Tonight" to 90 minutes. Or perhaps give the hour back to the affiliates. The other question is Leno's future. He says he expects to be back on the road (where he's often been during his "Tonight" tenure), although there's sure to be speculation about his landing at another late-night post, perhaps Fox.

From Deadline:

While New York officials are popping the champagne over the news, the mood is subdued in the halls of the Burbank mayoral office. Burbank Mayor Dave Golonski recently threatened to go on a hunger strike in protest of a Tonight Show move. Golonski is yet to comment on today's official announcement, but Drew Sugars, City of Burbank Public Information Officer, told Deadline: "It's an institution here and its more about tradition than the economics," he said of the show. "Even with the Tonight Show leaving we consider ourselves the Media Capital of the world with lots of big companies here. We're sad to see the show go. We also want thank Jay Leno for his years here and his support of Burbank. You see hm driving around and he's been a great citizen and supporter of the city.

*Edited post

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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