The longstanding feud between David Letterman and Jay Leno could soon be resolved, and all for the cause of ratings.
The New York Daily News reports that the 66-year-old Letterman is working behind the scenes to pull off what would be a remarkable late-night coup: Booking Leno – only three weeks removed from his post on The Tonight Show – as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman.
According to Daily News’ sources, Letterman is orchestrating the bold attempt to keep up with newly installed Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, who is considerably younger at 39 and is already starting to dominate the U.S. late-night ratings.
Still in its first week, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is already averaging U.S. ratings of 7.3-million viewers (in his sendoff season, Leno was drawing an average of 4.1-million nightly).
By Fallon’s second night, his U.S. viewing audience was actually larger than Letterman (2.69-million) and Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2.15-million) combined.
And according to unidentified sources for the Daily News, Letterman knew this day was coming.
“There’s been quiet talk behind the scenes for months that Dave will have Jay Leno on as a guest,” said the source. “[Letterman’s] producers waited until Fallon debuted [on Tonight], give him space out of respect, but are now ready to pull out all the stops.”
What makes the possible reunion between Letterman and Leno so enticing is the fact that the two comedians were formerly close friends who famously fell out after Leno won the coveted Tonight Show host role in 1992.
Letterman went on to launch his own CBS talkfest and fought Leno in late-night ratings for two decades.
But the backroom maneuvering and scheming that lead to Leno getting the Tonight Show gig over Letterman was so legendary that it spawned the 1993 book The Late Shift, written by New York Times TV critic Bill Carter, which in turn became an HBO movie.
More recently, Letterman is thinking more clearly and apparently realizes he has to effect some form of damage control in the wake of the viewing public rushing toward the new guy. Letterman and the 63-year-old Leno reportedly had a 20-minute phone conversation to smooth over their former disagreements.
Representatives for both Leno and Letterman aren’t commenting on the possible rapprochement. The same sources claim Leno isn’t looking to hurt his Tonight Show successor, but rather just trying to remain relevant in the late-night landscape.
And just because Letterman is extending the olive branch to Leno doesn’t mean he’s doing the same thing with Fallon.
The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon tape blocks from each other in New York, and that means the competition to book the big names has stepped up a notch.
“Letterman’s booking department is keeping track of everyone who has appeared on Fallon so far, and considering if they’re worth having,” said the Daily News source. “Letterman’s people aren’t taking the leftovers.”
But for many viewers, the choice between Dave and the two Jimmys still comes down to who’s sitting down on the couch.
Tonight, Letterman’s lead guest is NCIS star Pauley Perette and Kimmel has a rebroadcast show featuring Canadian actor Nathan Fillion.
And Jimmy Fallon has Justin Timberlake.
Which show would you stay up late for?