Jay Leno's Days Hosting 'Tonight' Are Numbered

Finally, Jay Leno may be leaving The Tonight Show. He will not be leaving today, tonight, or tomorrow, but a new report says his days behind Carson's old desk are numbered. 

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Finally, Jay Leno may be leaving The Tonight Show. He will not be leaving today, tonight, or tomorrow, but a new report says his days behind Carson's old desk are numbered.

The Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters reports the 2013-2014 season will be Jay Leno's last as Tonight Show host. Jimmy Fallon, that loveable scamp hosting NBC's Late Night show, will be announced his successor, per tradition, in the summer of next year. NBC and Leno say it ain't happening, but what do they know?

But wait, you're saying, you've heard this story before. You may remember Leno left The Tonight Show briefly in 2009 to host an earlier version of what was essentially still The Tonight Show for NBC. The Tonight mantle was handed off to Conan O'Brien, noted funnyman and then Late Night host, to mixed results. Leno couldn't find footing in the earlier time slot, and the network wasn't pleased with O'Brien's struggles to get accustomed to being on TV a half an hour earlier. And so Leno reclaimed his Tonight Show spot from O'Brien in 2010 after a long, public fight between the network and Leno's successor. Since, Leno has enjoyed late-night rating supremacy while O'Brien has enjoyed performing his schtick on TBS for Andy Richter and some elderly people in Florida who can't find the remote.

Which is all a nice way of saying Fallon shouldn't get comfortable, even if the report is true.

So, why is the network making the switch? The youngs, apparently. Kids aren't watching Leno anymore. They prefer the funny jokes of former Man Show host Jimmy Kimmel over on ABC. Well, no, that's a bit glib. Leno is consistently beating Kimmel in the coveted 18-34 demographics, but Kimmel is competitive, and that scares NBC. They need some pep. A youthful rejuvenation, if you will, in the form of the real-life leprechaun Fallon.

Another reason for the possible ouster: Jay Leno is effing expensive and NBC is (mostly) broke. Money is not growing on trees in Rockefeller Center. Leno made headlines last summer for selflessly taking a pay cut to save some Tonight jobs, but he still makes a pile of cash. Something to the tune of $20 million per year. Put it this way: Leno makes more money than Derek Jeter and Lionel Messi, but slightly less than A-Rod.

It's important to note Masters doesn't credit the move to Leno's desire to retire. Let's not mince words here: if this happens, it's because Leno is being pushed out. Masters notes how Leno would never, ever in a million years want to leave TV before his bitter enemy, David Letterman. (Think of how amazingly smug Letterman would be the night after Leno's retirement episode.) The fact of the matter is Fallon would be considerably cheaper to pay than Leno for a network that needs to cut costs. There's some debate over whether The Tonight Show is still a revenue generator for NBC, anyway. Switching to a cheaper, and just-so-happens-to-be-younger host may put the show back into the black.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.