Now that it seems likely that The Tonight Show will return to New York with Jimmy Fallon as its new host, the question is whether a new round of booking wars will emerge between NBC and CBS’ The Late Show with David Letterman. Up until now, the east and west coast locales for the late-night shows have made it relatively easy for publicists: New York-based actors do David Letterman, Los Angeles-based ones visit Jay Leno and the Hollywood-based Jimmy Kimmel. But a new Manhattan-based locale for The Tonight Show would not only reinvigorate the NBC franchise but potentially force actors to make a hard choices: Do you ignore a beloved veteran like Letterman to sit on Fallon’s couch?
For now, many talent reps see the rumored move as a positive – and not just for Kimmel, who will become the only 11:30 p.m. game in town once The Tonight Show moves out of California.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic to have The Tonight Show back in New York City,” said veteran publicist Simon Halls. “That’s where The Tonight Show originated and there is something about that history coupled with the sophistication of New York City that makes the show feel that much more special and exciting. There won’t be any issues booking talent because of location. Letterman and Fallon both get to pick from the cream of the crop for guests now, and location has never been an issue.”
Others aren’t so sure. Says one late night veteran, “it depends on whether the two shows tell publicists they will play nice or they tell publicists they will not follow each other.” Adds a longtime personal publicist, “It’s not ideal, only because talent are mostly based in Los Angeles, and unless networks or studios fund a trip, it’s hard to get clients to New York. And with clients who have limited availability and can’t always travel, it’s so easy to just have them pop over to Burbank to do Leno.” Another high-profile publicist put it more bluntly: “Not a tough choice. I would take Letterman over Fallon.”
But will Letterman even stick around to host? CBS recently extended his contract through 2014, but Letterman, who is 65, may not want to renew once his pact expires. By the end of his current deal, Letterman will have been doing late-night TV for more than 32 years, two years longer than what Johnny Carson did on The Tonight Show. Fallon may face a whole new competitor at CBS next year.
That is, unless the transition at The Tonight Show occurs sooner rather than later. Some industry insiders believe the lightning speed at which the news has traveled about a Tonight Show succession plan may prompt NBC to make a change earlier rather than after the 2014 Winter Olympics in February – the rumored target date for Fallon’s takeover. Jay Leno’s pay or play deal on The Tonight Show extends through 2014 so he’ll have to be paid out if he’s booted any earlier.
Unfortunately, NBC is staying mum on the subject; it hasn’t confirmed anything other than to say it is building fancy new digs for Fallon in New York. But at least one Peacock honcho is hinting toward a change. Late Night executive producer Lorne Michaels talked to GQ about Fallon’s chances to take over the Tonight Show and had this to say: “I’m not allowed to say it – yet. But I think there’s an inevitability to it. He’s the closest to Carson that I’ve seen of this generation.”