Jay Leno is nearly done with NBC and The Tonight Show after over 20 years, and CNN president Jeff Zucker is rumored to be ready to pounce once the Great Chinbino is free from Burbank.
Zucker, who worked with Leno at NBC for years, wants to inject his network with "attitude" and apparently thinks Jay Leno fits that bill, as nothing says attitude like the unfailingly nice host of The Tonight Show. Leno's a free agent once he finishes with NBC in February, following the Winter Olympics, when Jimmy Fallon will move The Tonight Show back to New York for the first time since Jack Parr hosted the late night institution.
The Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Beloni and Lacey Rose report Zucker recently "visited briefly with Leno" at The Tonight Show's Burbank studios, supposedly offering a show in primetime or late night.
The two have something of a history, to put it mildly. In 2009, Zucker was the NBC executive who set in motion Leno's first unceremonious exit from The Tonight Show in favor of a younger host, Conan O'Brien. Then he got cold feet and brought Leno back for a prime-time show that was fairly universally received as a disaster. And then, of course, once O'Brien's Tonight Show tanked, and Leno's primetime show didn't fare much better, NBC ended up re-setting the late-night situation with Leno back in his old spot.
Inabilities of Zucker to shake his Leno habit notwithstanding, the move to CNN makes a ton of sense, as we and others outlined back in March. CNN wants to get younger, yes, but when your current audience already skews closer to retirement, aiming for 45 years olds instead of 60 year olds is still a significant step. Bringing in Leno will still court a younger demo than the news network's usual crowd, even though he's not making anything viral any time soon.