Do you remember about 75 years ago when NBC announced that Conan O’Brien would eventually take over for Jay Leno as host of “The Tonight Show?”
Well, eventually is almost here.
O’Brien will secede the “Late Night” chair he’s held since 1993 in the spring to prepare for the switch to 60 minutes sooner. Fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Jimmy Fallon will take his spot for the 12:30 a.m. show, with O’Brien beginning his 11:30 p.m. duties June 1.
O’Brien has for years been the best part of late-night television, so the cross-country promotion is well-deserved for the former “The Simpsons” writer. But while I am a Letterman fan and find Leno to be a bit dull, he’s won the ratings war with his CBS counterpart for years and remains wildly popular, so one has to wonder why NBC is forcing Leno ot the door (reports are that every other major network wants to sign Leno once he does his last show May 29, but he can’t switch until January 2010 due to contractual obligations).
NBC insists it wants to find room for Leno, but no one could blame him for wanting out. Even if he doesn’t return to television – which is highly unlikely – he still tours North America as a wildly popular stand-up comedian (including a recent sold-out stop in Niagara Falls, Ontario).
The strangest part of the whole thing is that despite Leno’s popularity, the switch could still mean a ratings boost. O’Brien’s quirky humor matches Letterman’s yet appeals to a younger audience, so he could draw some Letterman viewers down the dial to NBC.
Where NBC stands to suffer, though, is at 12:30 a.m. Fallon’s comical moments on ‘SNL’ largely involved him laughing at his own jokes. He is very funny in his stand-up and has his moments on camera, but whether he merits his own show remains to be seen.
That’s where Craig Ferguson comes in. The host of CBS’ 12:30 a.m. show, “The Late Late Show,” is probably the most underrated of all the late-night hosts. His show also draws fewer viewers than NBC, but he stands to pick up viewers who are turned off by Fallon, so that could swing the pendulum toward The Eye.