So he’s really leaving The Tonight Show. Now what? Will the top-rated late-night host really just… fade away? Or will Jay Leno pop-up again, in an 11:30 p.m slot somewhere, grinning and aw-shucking and saying, “Hello! Have you heard about this? You read about this? Yeah, I’m still here! Amazing! Thank you!”
A survey of late-night and broadcast TV insiders disagreed on Leno’s next step. Like, radically disagreed. But some opinions were more common than others. Here are some of Leno’s possible options:
Go to Fox: Less likely than you might think. Every time Fox has tried to launch a late-night show it’s been a mess. Despite an affiliate president recently breaking ranks to make it sound like his station group would be on board with clearing Leno, every major local market throughout the country would have to make a hole, preferably in the same time slot, and that’s very tough to do with all the various programming commitments in place. “They say they want it but then say, ‘But we have [a sitcom repeat] in that slot!’” one insider noted. Besides, Fox will face some of the same issues NBC had with Leno: He is not the future of late night, and Fox is not the kind of network that wants to invest in older-skewing programming. Noted one late-night insider: “Executives are always asking themselves: ‘How do I look if I make this decision?’ If you plunk down $100 million for a new Jay Leno show, it’s too risky and there’s nothing cool about it.”
Take over CBS’ Late Show if Letterman retires in 2014: Nobody thinks this will happen. Leno has been CBS’ competitor too long; it’s like Coke having a conjugal visit with Pepsi — it just feels wrong. Even if Dave retires (and most seem to think he’ll stay for one more round) CBS will opt for somebody younger to take over the franchise, like Stephen Colbert. Also, those familiar with Leno’s thinking insist — contrary to his online reputation — he’s not looking to try and rain on Fallon’s parade by doing a rival show (especially after all the negative press he garnered during the Conan O’Brien debacle three years ago).
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