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Déjà Vu for Exec Who Started Late-Night Wars
The NBC affiliate community greeted NBC's official
announcement on its Tonight Show
succession plans with good feelings for both the outgoing and incoming hosts.
Current one Jay Leno has always been popular with affiliates -- meeting many
local managers face to face, and consistently delivering strong late-night
ratings. But many affiliates believe his successor, Jimmy Fallon, can build on
Leno's body of work -- and fend off a mounting challenge from Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC.
"I believe Jimmy will be able to retain Jay's viewers,
and bring his own audience to the time period," says John Dawson, vice
president/general manager at KSNW Wichita. "His humor is compatible enough
to retain an audience, and he brings his own unique viewers in too. It sets up
the Battle of the Jimmys, and I think [Fallon] will win."
Affiliates were concerned that NBC would wait too long to
implement a succession plan, giving Kimmel more time to build an audience at
11:30 p.m. ET. NBC announced April 3 that Fallon, currently hosting at Late Night at 12:35 a.m. ET, will slide
into Leno's Tonight Show role in the
spring of 2014.
Jordan Wertlieb, NBC affiliates board chairman, called
Fallon's promotion a "very smart" move for the network, and also
saluted the show's shift to New York and Lorne Michaels taking on an executive
producer role. "It reinvigorates the brand in a very exciting way,"
NBC famously botched a Leno-to-Conan transition in 2009, but
the affiliates voice big confidence that the network, with a different set of
execs in charge, will pull it off this time.
"I believe it will be seamless," says Ken
Freedman, vice president/general manager at KWQC Davenport (Iowa). "I
don't think we'll miss a beat. If anything, I think we'll get younger."
Leno's brand of comedy is broad, while Fallon's is more
quirky. While Fallon's youthful personal and robust social media activity make
for a younger, perhaps more urbane viewer, the affiliates seem to believe the
former Saturday Night Live funnyman will play in the heartland. "He's got
high enough visibility on so many platforms," says Freedman. "I think
he'll be accepted in Middle America."
Wertlieb believes ratings comparisons between the two, at least at the
beginning of Fallon's run, are unfair, but called Fallon a "great, great
Of course, moving Fallon up to 11:30 opens up his seat at
12:35 a.m., and the network has not announced its plans for that program. One
name that has surfaces is SNL head writer/performer Seth Meyers. Wertlieb says
NBC has not revealed its thoughts on the matter, which is likely to come up
when the affiliates board meets in Las Vegas next week.
"We're not concerned, but we would like to know who
will be there," says Kym Grinnage, vice president and general manager at
Leno will always be a popular figure among NBC's station
partners; multiple GMs invoke the "hardest working man in show
business" axiom when describing Leno. Wertlieb calls him "an
incredible professional who did fantastic work on behalf of the network and the
Dawson adds that Leno, whose plans beyond his Tonight
departure are in flux, will always be viewed as a friend of NBC's station
partners across the country. "He will be missed, no doubt about
that," he says. "But it's great to see him go out on top."
But the affiliates are also excited to see how
Fallon does on a larger stage. "Fallon is funny -- I couldn't be
happier," says Jack Dempsey, VP/GM at WCYB in the Tri-Cities (Va.-Tenn.)
DMA. "I believe this time they got it right."
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.