Bill Carter — the man who has been chronicling the late-night wars for about two decades — is reporting over on The New York Times today that Jimmy Fallon’s succession to The Tonight Show is now even more inevitable than before. Apparently, not only is Fallon expected to replace Leno — who has caused a stir recently by making terrible jokes about NBC’s terrible ratings — but he’s expected to move the show back to New York, where it was originally hosted under Steve Allen. In fact, according to Carter, a new set is quietly being built for Fallon. NBC neither confirms nor denies this report; they’re only saying that Fallon is getting a new state-of-the-art set, but why would he be unless he was about to take over The Tonight Show.
No definitive timetable has been set, but Leno’s contract expires in the fall of 2014, and NBC is in a hurry to re-up Fallon before he goes out on the open market. It’s expected that Fallon will take over The Tonight Show’s hosting duties sometime in late 2014, where he’s expected to fend off Jimmy Kimmel, who has been grabbing a new generation of viewers over on ABC since he moved into the 11:35 slot.
The only wrinkle in this is that, despite his relative unpopularity with critics and other late-night talk show hosts, Leno still leads in the ratings. Presumably this time, however, NBC won’t balk if they suffer a short-term drop under Fallon in the new time slot. He is, after all, the best late-night talk show in the business (excluding the Comedy Central guys).
Who will take over “Late Night” is still an open question, although there has been some silly speculation that it’d go to Howard Stern. Another question is whether Letterman will also retire, and who would replace him. Jon Stewart — who once had a holding contract to replace Letterman — seems like the appropriate choice, especially in light of his leave from “The Daily Show” this summer, when John Oliver will get a three-month tryout in his seat.