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Jay Leno's job on the line as late night TV wars resume

Categories: Television

Leno, Fallon Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon share some laughs at the Golden Globe awards. Fallon seems the likely successor to Leno at The Tonight Show. (Associated Press)

The late night wars have returned again to American network TV, with the New York Times reporting that The Tonight Show will drop Jay Leno as host — and move its taping to New York City — in 2014. Leno's already annointed successor is Jimmy Fallon, the comedian whose Late Night follows Leno's show on NBC.

NBC has already had a celebrated botch of this changing of the guard — the 2010 experiment with moving The Tonight Show to primetime that bombed in the ratings and resulted in the loss of Conan O'Brien's talent. The younger host got bumped when Leno moved back to the 11.35 slot and called it quits. NBC has confirmed neither the timing nor the details of any upcoming move. It did confirm Wednesday it's creating a new studio for Fallon in New York.

 Jimmy Kimmel, now at an earlier time, is getting the young-adult audience. (Associated Press)

The network is spooked by the success of Jimmy Kimmel Live over on ABC, which moved into the 11:35 slot opposite Leno last summer. Kimmel is locking up young adult viewers with his slick internet-friendly comedy. Fallon may be the way to woo those viewers to NBC with a similar contemporary style and adept use of YouTube. The network is mired in last place in the primetime ratings wars, though The Tonight Show still leads in late night viewers.

Leno has been having some fun with those low ratings all week, but his jokes Wednesday reveal some bitterness toward network executives.

"According to several reports — this is kind of scary — scientists say they're getting closer and closer to being able to do Jurassic Park-style cloning of extinct species. Imagine that? Things once thought to be extinct can now be brought back from the dead."

"So there's hope for NBC. It could turn around," he concluded.

Fallon also alluded to the potential change.

"Before we get started I have to talk about the rumours that came out today that we'll be moving up to 11:30, or as my parents call it, 'Eh, still too late,'" he said. "Actually the rumours are true. NBC is turning The Tonight Show into a diving competition."

O'Brien, meanwhile, who got a huge payout for being bumped by Leno, then took a show on a rival network, is on vacation and not around to throw his juice into the mix.

Both Leno, and his arch-rival at CBS, David Letterman, are signed to contracts to 2014, so it's not hard to guess the date of the potential handover. Still, Leno doesn't seem willing to go without fighting back — and the generation of young comedians nipping at his heels are ready to play along.

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Tags: Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, late night TV

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