Earlier this week, The NY Daily News reported that NBC is exploring the option of handing The Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon when Jay Leno's contract runs up in May 2014, after hearing rumblings from talent agents who have been contacted by NBC execs looking to fill Fallon's slot on Late Night should he get the bump. As the whole 2009/2010 Tonight Show debacle proved, Jay Leno probably won't go easily and he could end up staying in the post long past 2014. He's got to leave that show eventually, though, so let's start looking at some potential replacements for Fallon should he get Leno's job.
So, what will be the factors in NBC's search for a Jimmy Fallon replacement? Since its inception in 1982, Late Night has consistently been the youngest and hippest franchise in network talk. The show's three hosts – David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon – while wildly different from one another, have all shared an experimental edge to their shows that other talk franchises don't have. The new Late Night host has to be somebody young, or at least young for late night TV, a field in which the two biggest players are in their 60s. So, probably somebody under 40 or at least in his or her early 40s. The choice may also be someone a little unconventional. When Conan O'Brien got the gig nearly 20 years, he was a Simpsons and SNL writer with no on-camera experience. The network is unlikely to choose a complete unknown again, but this is still a job that can go to someone surprising; however, Jimmy Fallon was a well-known TV personality when he was crowned the host of Late Night in 2009, meaning that the network will probably seek out somebody closer to his level of fame and recognizability this time around too.
The below list of potential Fallon replacements won't have any Fantasyland picks either. We'd all love to see Louis C.K., Tina Fey, or Stephen Colbert made the host of Late Night, but they all have jobs that give them more creative control and and hew closer to their sensibilities than Late Night would. Plus, they're all in their 40s, which is a little older than the hosts of this franchise have been when inaugurated (Letterman and Fallon were 34, Conan was 30). Previous stand-up or talk show hosting experience also looks great on a Late Night candidate's resume, benefiting them in the monologue department, but it isn't a necessity. And finally, having a connection to Lorne Michaels, who's been producing Late Night since 1993, is a plus. Michaels would likely follow Fallon to The Tonight Show if and when the promotion happens, but he'd probably have a say in choosing the new Late Night host even if he doesn't retain an executive producer credit on the show.
Without further ado, let's take a look at some comedians who would make excellent Jimmy Fallon replacements. Some are frontrunners, others are long shots, but they're all wonderful:
1. John Mulaney
A writer for Saturday Night Live since 2008, John Mulaney has also been pounding the pavement as one of the country's leading stand-ups. His Comedy Central special and album New in Town debuted to much acclaim this year, plus he's had on-camera appearances on Fallon, Conan, and SNL's Weekend Update. Speculated by fans to be a potential successor to Seth Meyers on Weekend Update, Mulaney could end up hopping that step in his career and landing the Late Night job. He's young, good-looking, and has an in with Lorne Michaels and a sizable fanbase, making him a strong choice to succeed Fallon. Mulaney is also a top-notch sketch writer, co-writing Bill Hader's popular Stefon appearances, which would come in handy when working with writers on Late Night desk pieces and bits.
2. Tig Notaro
Tig Notaro's had quite a year. In the midst of beating cancer and dealing with a slew of other personal hardships, Notaro's live performance at the Largo Theater in Los Angeles, in which she honestly and hilariously discussed her diagnosis and traumatic year, was released as an audio recording via Louis C.K.'s website and proved to be one of the most popular and acclaimed stand-up sets in years. She's also done stand-up on Conan and Fallon, proving she'd make an excellent monologue joke teller who would also bring an offbeat Conan-esque sensibility to Late Night. With a recently-signed book deal, fans from her podcast Professor Blastoff and her regular This American Life contributions, and her much-celebrated Largo set, Tig Notaro has a lot of momentum going for her right now.
3. Seth Meyers
Late Night's current host is also an SNL alum who anchored the Weekend Update desk, making Seth Meyers seem like an appealing and likely pick for NBC. He's been working with Lorne Michaels for over a decade now, which also goes in his favor. Meyers's Update stint shows he's adept at doling out monologue-style jokes and straight-manning goofy characters, a must for a late night host. The likelihood of Meyers taking the job largely depends on if the sitcom he created with his brother, MADtv's Josh Meyers, gets picked up by NBC in the spring.
4. Hannibal Buress
A popular stand-up who's done Conan, Kimmel, Letterman, Ferguson, and Fallon, Hannibal Buress has also written for Lorne Michaels-produced series SNL and 30 Rock. Buress's Comedy Central special/album Animal Furnace was a hit this year, and ABC has already tapped him to be a potential primetime star. The network is developing a cop comedy that Buress is writing and starring in for next season, meaning that if the show goes, he'll be too big for late night. If it doesn't, he'd make a fantastic 12:35am host.
5. Bill Hader
Sure, Bill Hader isn't a stand-up like most of the others on this list (and everyone in late night but Conan), but like Jimmy Fallon, he's a likable and popular SNL cast member and a talented impressionist who would fit in nicely with the show's sketches and comedy bits. Plus, he's learned how not to host a talk show from years of playing Italian interviewer Vinny Vedecci on SNL.
6. Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal
Yes, a talk show with two hosts is a wacky idea and hasn't really been done before, but Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler have been hosting the popular New York (and now L.A.) variety show Hot Tub together since 2005. They both have a silly, weird comic style that perfectly suits Late Night, particularly the show's comedy bits, and they're both recognizable to audiences from past TV work (Schaal for The Daily Show, 30 Rock, and Flight of the Conchords; Braunohler for IFC's Bunk). If Schaal and Braunohler hosting the show together is too nutty of a concept, either would make a great Late Night host solo – or Braunohler could always be Schaal's bandleader.
7. Pete Holmes
A comedian who's appeared on Conan, Fallon, Best Week Ever, and John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show, Pete Holmes has also shown he's capable of excellent, weird longform interviews on his podcast You Made It Weird. He was tapped by TBS earlier this year to host a new post-Conan talk show produced by Conan O'Brien himself, but TBS has yet to announce whether or not they're picking up the program, entitled The Midnight Show with Pete Holmes. If not, it could be TBS's loss and NBC's gain.
8. Chris Gethard
It'd be a pretty big jump for Chris Gethard to go from hosting his own New York public access show to hosting a network talk show, but the UCB-based comedian has been on the rise lately. Just this past year, IFC hired Gethard to host on-air promos and develop his own show for the network, he made headlines after writing a heartfelt response to a suicidal fan, he did his first Conan appearance, and he published his first book, A Bad Idea I'm About to Do, which earned him a fan in reigning King of Comedy Judd Apatow. Chris Gethard has also become a regular on Late Night, with Jimmy Fallon himself becoming a fan of Gethard and the kind of crazy, unpredictable comedy he does on his public access show, The Chris Gethard Show, which is also streamed online and has been developing a rabid cult following that grows more and more each week. The kind of wild experimentation and silliness Chris Gethard and Company practice on the show would be perfect – if not too weird – for Late Night.
9. Jen Kirkman
A busy stand-up and writer, Jen Kirkman is best known for being a regular on E!'s Chelsea Lately. She's also made appearances on Conan, Craig Ferguson, John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show and is frequently featured on Paul F. Tompkins's podcast The Pod F. Tompkast and Funny Or Die's Drunk History. Kirkman, a popular Twitterer and author of the upcoming book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, has plenty of on-camera talk show experience, and, as she's proven with each appearance on The Pod F. Tompkast, has a lot of amazing stories to tell.
10. Kumail Nanjiani
One of the sharpest stand-ups going, Kumail Nanjiani has made appearances on Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel, and Conan. Nanjiani is also a busy actor who's a regular on TNT's Franklin & Bash and a recurring guest on Portlandia, Michael & Michael Have Issues, and The Colbert Report. While he hasn't hosted a TV show yet, Nanjiani is currently the host of IFC's Portlandia web series Kumail Tours Portlandia and co-host of the Nerdist podcast The Indoor Kids and The Meltdown, L.A.'s most popular weekly stand-up show.
11. Billy Eichner
As the host of the Fuse series Funny Or Die Presents Billy on the Street and a regular correspondent on Conan, Billy Eichner has proven he's a quick-witted young guy with a distinctive sense of humor who would be a nice fit for late night TV. Eichner used to host a live talk show onstage at the UCB Theatre in New York, complete with all of the components of a traditional late night show (sketches, a monologue, a band, etc). Also, his one-of-a-kind man-on-the-street segment abilities would also come in handy in late night.
12. Paul F. Tompkins
Comedian Paul F. Tompkins has some talk show experience under his belt from his stint as the host of VH1's Best Week Ever, and this past summer, Comedy Central was developing a talk show hosted by him called Nightcap. A Conan regular and an accomplished stand-up and sketch writer/performer who's been christened "The Mayor of Podcasting" by his peers, Tompkins would be a boon to any late night show. His abilities as a stand-up (demonstrated most recently on his excellent special/album Laboring Under Delusions), interviewer (seen on his web series Speakeasy), and impressionist (on the podcast Comedy Bang Bang and his own Pod F. Tompkast) would all come in handy and make him one of the most well-rounded late night hosts ever.