Jimmy Fallon is looking to make a contemplated Tonight Show transition as graceful as possible.
Sources say the Late Night host has called Jay Leno out of deference to the hardest-working man in show business, who took over for Johnny Carson as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show in 1992.
STORY: NBCU Debates Timing of Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ Debut
As first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, NBCUniversal is contemplating a transition, with Fallon replacing Leno sometime in 2014. At this juncture, the debate within NBCUniversal is not whether Fallon will make the move but when. Some top executives at the company are said to be leaning toward a February launch to take advantage of the promotional platform of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia; others, including Late Night executive producer Lorne Michaels, are believed to have concerns about rushing the transition.
ANALYSIS: Why NBC Should Be Planning Jay Leno’s Exit
According to one source, Fallon is somewhat hesitant about taking on the storied 11:35 p.m. franchise. He is said to have had similar reservations about committing to Late Night a few years earlier. Another source, however, suggests that the host is "comfortable with what’s happening" with regard to the Tonight Show, but he is not comfortable "with all this noise" in the media. Says the source: "He was told it would be seamless and [NBC] would take care of it. He didn’t expect this."
As anyone with a TV will recall, the Tonight Show transition from Leno to Conan O’Brien went terribly awry. O’Brien took over the show in June 2009, and by early 2010 — after an ill-fated experiment in which the network scheduled The Jay Leno Show as a 10 p.m. strip — Leno was ushered back to the 11:35 p.m. slot. A highly public brawl ensued between O’Brien and NBC. O’Brien and Leno did not speak during the shakeup; instead, they used their on-air platforms to voice their frustrations with each other as well as the network.