Jay Leno Reported Out at The Tonight Show

"All eyes will be on Jay Leno’s Tonight show tonight," Roger Friedman writes at Show Biz 411. "With one hour to go before Wednesday night’s taping, NBC sent Leno a clear message and used the media to do it":

The Drudge Report is blaring “Fallon In, Leno Out” as GQ magazine released a special issue with heir apparent Jimmy Fallon on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter seized on a quote from Fallon producer Lorne Michaels that “Jimmy Fallon” is the closest thing he’s seen to a Johnny Carson. Wow. (I think Fallon is more like Jack Paar or Steve Allen frankly.) The New York Times’ expert on this subject, Bill Carter, followed with a story about a Fallon Tonight show moving to New York. Leno, with a quick trigger temper, will be exploding at these statements. With hints that he may be forced out by February 2014, Leno is sure to blow a gasket. When The “Tonight” show begins taping at 4pm Pacific, 7 Eastern, look for Tweets etc about his monologue. Yikes.

The Hollywood Reporter adds:

[An] announcement is expected to be made at the May upfront presentation to advertisers. With Fallon expected to launch as host in September 2014, Tonight will move from Los Angeles to New York, according to sources.

In a Fallon cover story for the April issue of GQ, Michaels confirmed that a shift is underway: "I'm not allowed to say it -- yet. But I think there's an inevitability to it. He's the closest to [Johnny] Carson that I've seen of this generation."

NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and his late night and alternative chief Paul Telegdy are said to be actively looking for a Fallon replacement at 12:35 a.m. One possibility is another Michaels protege, Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live.

If the move goes through, presumably it would make Lorne Michaels, who created NBC's Saturday Night Live in the mid-1970s, the producer (likely executive producer) of The Tonight Show, a role -- or at least a time slot -- he's coveted for decades. Although Michaels describing Fallon as "the closest to Carson that I've seen of this generation" is more than a little ironic, considering the bad blood between two camps after SNL debuted in 1975, according to Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad in their mid-1980s book Saturday Night:

Carson’s distaste for NBC’s other late-night show (shared by many if not most comedians of his generation) was well known within the network. It surfaced publicly in an August 1976 interview with Tom Shales of The Washington Post, when Carson blasted Saturday Night for relying on drug jokes and cruelty. He also dismissed the cast as hopeless amateurs who couldn’t “ad-lib a fart at a bean-eating contest.” Saturday Night retaliated the following season with some anti-Carson jokes on Weekend Update. In one, reporting that Carson had announced plans to do the Tonight Show live instead of on videotape, anchorwoman Jane Curtin noted that he had been “doing the show dead for the past fifteen years.”

Carson's mid-century middlebrow cool eventually lost its sway over NBC, as Michaels' counterculture-inspired brand of snark became the dominant archetype at the network and its spin-off, MSNBC. While Carson was very much a political liberal ("Paul Ehrlich, Gore Vidal, Carl Sagan, Madalyn Murray O’Hair"  was a recurring leitmotif for Carson describing his favorite "intellectual" guests" in his late-'70s New Yorker profile), he was smart enough not to wear his politics on his sleeve when performing his monologues. SNL took a very different approach to GOP presidents; as Michaels' ex-wife and a writer on SNL said when Gerald Ford's press secretary hosted an early episode of SNL, "The President’s watching. Let’s make him cringe and squirm.”

If past performance is any indication, expect a similar partisan approach when Michaels and Fallon take over The Tonight Show, Christian Toto writes at Big Hollywood:

Fallon's regular guy charm is legit, but so is his willingness to peddle conservative insults. His show's use of the song "Lyin' Ass Bitch" to greet Tea Party favorite Congresswoman Michele Bachmann remains one of nastiest moments in recent pop culture history.

More recently, Fallon invited President Obama on the show to participate in a comedy segment that doubled as administration propaganda.

Leno is far from a perfect late night host. His interviews can be maddeningly by the book, and his sketches are as uneven as his predecessor, the great Johnny Carson. Yet Leno has always stuck to the basics--you're a late night comic, and that means you poke fun at the president no matter the party.

He'll be missed for that quality as well as his sturdy monologues, leaving the late night field wide open for a center-right talent with the guts to do his or her job.

Note that unless he's undergone a dramatic and unreported political transformation in the last decade, Leno's left-leaning politics are the same as Michaels' and Fallons'; but he's worked hard to maintain the same middle-of-the-road tone that Carson took, allowing him to regularly best the partisan and angry leftist Letterman, and keeping him one of the few ratings bright spots in NBC's otherwise dismal line-up. Or as Ace writes today, "NBC to Replace Ratings-Champ Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon":

This always amuses me.

NBC is always after the "younger, hipper" demographic.

Let me let NBC in on a little secret: The younger, hipper demographic doesn't watch TV.

Even the not-so-young, not-so-hip demographic sort of avoids it.

And Jay agrees, describing NBC as "extinct" in his monologue tonight, according to Inside TV: 

With a report in the New York Times today confirming the network has promised Jimmy Fallon that he will succeed Jay Leno as the next host of the iconic late-night program, fans of talk-show intrigue will doubtless tune in to see if Leno has a reaction tonight.

Though we’re told the host did not directly address the Fallon news in Wednesday’s taping, he did once again take a shot at NBC’s low ratings. “According to several reports, scientists say they are getting closer and closer to being able to do Jurassic Park-style cloning of extinct species,” Leno told his audience. “Imagine that. Things that were once thought to be extinct could be brought back from the dead. So there’s hope for NBC. It could turn around.”

On Monday, he compared his NBC bosses to “snakes.” While on Tuesday night, he took a swipe at the ratings. 

Say, does Univision have a late-night talk show? Might want to start spiffing up its set and getting some new duds for its host, as it could suddenly find itself bringing mucho grande ratings...

(Image above based on a photograph by Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com.)