A news item in the New York Post this week suggested that NBC is once again pondering the future of “The Tonight Show,” eyeing Jimmy Fallon as the likely and logical successor to Jay Leno (if and when Jay and/or NBC decides he should call it a day).
But is plucking the future “Tonight Show” host from the show that follows it – NBC’s “Late Night” – really the best idea? NBC tried that already with Conan O’Brien, anointing him as heir to Leno’s throne a full five years in advance, as if the long lead time would result in a tranquil changing of the guard. Well, we all know how that turned out – the whole thing blew up in everybody’s faces and led to the kind of tumult in late-night we hadn’t seen since 1992 and ’93.
However, Jimmy Fallon certainly possesses some attractive attributes. With that in mind, here’s the case for Fallon – and the argument against him:
The case for Fallon:
Think of “Late Night” as the equivalent of a baseball farm team. A comedian gets his training there as a late-night talk-show host and eventually he earns his opportunity to get called up to the “majors” – in this case, TV’s most hallowed show, “The Tonight Show.”
The scenario makes a certain amount of sense, particularly for a guy like Fallon, who handles himself very well on “Late Night.” In many ways, he’s a cooler, smoother cat than Conan was – less quirky and more relaxed. Like a young Johnny Carson? Maybe.
Heaven knows when Leno will hang it up. As David Letterman once remarked, it’ll take a team of wild horses to drag Leno off “The Tonight Show,” especially now that Leno has won back the show after the Conan debacle last winter. Leno can’t do it forever, but he is only 60, which means he can certainly keep doing it for a while, especially if the ratings hold up. Fallon’s 36. By the time Leno leaves, be it 5 years or 10, Jimmy will be more than ready. In fact, Johnny Carson was 37 when he took over “The Tonight Show” and the rest is – or was – history.
Watch Fallon Mock John Boehner On Tuesday’s “Late Night”:
The case against Fallon:
By looking exclusively at its “Late Night” farm team for its future “Tonight Show” host, you could rightfully accuse NBC of limiting its options. The truth is: They did that once and it didn’t work. And they didn’t do it in 1992 – when they could have chosen Letterman (who was then hosting “Late Night”), but chose Leno. And Leno kept “The Tonight Show” on top for 15 years in an era when he faced more competition in late-night than Carson ever did.
Sure, keep Fallon in mind as a candidate. But look at other people. As Leno enters his 60s, why not try out guest hosts, like they did with Carson? That’s how Leno got acclimated. It’s also, at least in part, how he got the job. He guest-hosted so many times that NBC eventually signed him as Johnny’s permanent substitute (after Johnny fell out with Joan Rivers). Leno appeared every Monday night while Johnny worked four days a week. To us viewers, Leno was half in the job already, making him the most logical choice to replace Johnny – not Letterman.
Who knows? By trying out a number of celebrity substitutes in the years to come, NBC might hit on someone who possibly fits in the job better than Fallon – someone they hadn’t seriously thought about perhaps, but who might acquit himself (or herself) so well in the host’s chair that he or she might emerge as the smarter choice for “Tonight” going forward.
After all, “Tonight Show” host is one of the biggest jobs in television. Why limit yourself to one candidate for such an important job?
What do you think? Is Jimmy Fallon the only, logical choice to succeed Jay Leno? Who else should NBC consider when the time comes?