More Sources Say NBC Is Looking to Replace Leno with Fallon in 2014

Late last year, The NY Daily News reported that NBC was exploring the option of replacing Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon as host of The Tonight Show as soon as 2014, and now, The Hollywood Reporter is citing more anonymous sources who say the same thing. “Two high-level industry sources” have told the entertainment publication that the network is looking to announce Jay Leno’s retirement from The Tonight Show in May of this year, with his run expected to wrap up in May of 2014. According to the plan, Fallon would take over the 11:35 slot “with a soft launch during the summer of 2014 before a formal fall kickoff.”

The move is likely being rushed because of Jimmy Kimmel’s successful debut at 11:35 in January. Leno still has the top-rated show overall, but Kimmel is giving him a lot of competition for that coveted 18-49 audience. 38-year-old Jimmy Fallon is much better suited to compete with Kimmel for young viewers than 63-year-old Leno. If Leno’s CBS rival David Letterman retires when his contract runs up in 2014 and sends his network scrambling for a replacement, NBC runs the risk of losing Fallon to its competitor a la the way then-Late Night host Letterman left for CBS in 1993.

Leno’s representative commented to THR, “We do not speculate on rumor.” But given that more and more industry sources are saying that NBC wants the transition to take place next year, this seems like way more than a rumor. Don’t expect Jay Leno to go willingly, though, as the guy’s been dragging his heels on leaving this show for years now. He first talked announced his retirement from The Tonight Show nearly 10 years ago in 2004, when he agreed to hand The Tonight Show over to Conan O’Brien in five years. As Jimmy Kimmel said, “Jay Leno can’t stay on TV forever,” but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try.

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