Jay Leno has survived two late night wars. But this time, he can’t win. NBC let him know– via the excellent writer Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter–that his retirement is nigh. Leno will get a final year–I’m surprised he’s getting that long–and end his run on the Tonight show in May 2014. A month later, Jimmy Fallon will move into his slot at 11:35pm. It had to happen. Once ABC moved Jimmy Kimmel up to 11:35pm and replaced “Nightline,” the deal was done.
Leno, of course, survived the first war when Johnny Carson retired and NBC wanted David Letterman for The Tonight Show. That war was so crazy it became a book and an HBO movie. Then came the Conan O’Brien war, in which Conan was nearly killed and Leno moved to 10pm, almost died there, and then get to a reprieve back to Tonight.
But now the moment has come. Jimmy is great, and I enjoy watching him. But Fallon has the potential really to take over late night completely. He will certainly be a worthy competitor to Kimmel, who will have the advantage of 18 months in the time slot. Kimmel is also going to host the 2014 Oscars, which will give him a huge push.
Leno must be steaming, though. Instead of giving him a chance to say something or do something, NBC let the cat out of the bag. Masters’ piece was master-ful. It’s been picked up everywhere over the weekend. Jay–notably a great game player–has been outplayed by them. He can’t go back to 10pm doing specials. His next move will either be genius, or concession.