The Tonight Show appears to be moving back to New York– and without Jay Leno.
A story in Wednesday's The New York Times says NBC has made a commitment to Jimmy Fallon, the current host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, to succeed Leno as the next host of The Tonight Show.
The article by veteran TV industry reporter Bill Carter says several senior NBC executives were involved in the decision that would move The Tonight Show from its current studio in Burbank, Calif., back to New York, where the late-night program originated in 1954 with Steve Allen as host.
According to Carter, the L.A.-New York relocation is expected to take place by the fall of next year. The story states construction on the new show's studio at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters has already begun as part of a general reconstruction of the building by the media company Comcast, which this week completed a full takeover of NBC Universal.
The anointment of a new host on The Tonight Show is regarded as one of the most difficult personnel changes in TV today. Three years ago, NBC's attempt to launch Leno in primetime and fill his Tonight Show seat with Conan O'Brien resulted in bad publicity and eventually a job reversal.
In the end, The Jay Leno Show earned scathing reviews and low ratings in the 10 p.m. time slot, and lasted five months. O'Brien's seven-month Tonight Show tenure was no less disastrous and resulted in one of the first ratings drops in the late-night franchise's history. NBC eventually reinstated Leno as host and awarded O'Brien a settlement rumoured to be in the $45-million (U.S.) range.
Since returning to his late-night post, Leno has helmed a broadcast that continues to dominate in U.S. ratings.
In recent weeks, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has steadfastly finished first in U.S. late-night ratings, both in total viewers and among viewers in the sought-after 18-to-49 demographic. Leno's current contract with NBC runs until the fall of 2014, which would correlate perfectly with events forecasted in today's New York Times report.
Widely regarded as the dean of U.S. television critics, Carter has previously chronicled the late-night TV wars in his books The Late Shift (1994) and The War for Late Night (2010).