Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
NBC is finalizing its succession plans at “The Tonight Show.” Jay Leno, the longtime host, is expected to be replaced by Jimmy Fallon in 2014, people with knowledge of the plans confirmed.
This isn’t the first time NBC has tried to replace Leno. In 2009, Conan O’Brien succeeded Leno as host only to have Leno reclaim the job several months later. O’Brien now hosts a show on the TBS cable channel.
But NBC is hoping history doesn’t repeat itself this time. A person close to Leno said he is on board with the plan.
The exact timing is still being worked out. Leno’s contract with NBC is not up until September 2014. However, there has been talk about having Fallon move from his current time slot of 12:30 a.m. to Leno’s 11:30 p.m. slot next summer or perhaps earlier.
Although Leno is the most-watched late-night show host, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel has been making in-roads with the coveted 18-49 demographic. NBC brass doesn’t want Kimmel -- who had been in the midnight time slot until recently moving up half an hour -- to be firmly established before it gets a chance to move Fallon into Leno’s chair.
Unlike O’Brien, who moved from New York to Los Angeles when he landed the “Tonight Show” gig, Fallon is expected to remain in New York. An NBC spokeswoman confirmed that a new studio is being built for Fallon, a fact first reported by the New York Times.
That may make getting A-list guests a little easier for Kimmel, since he won’t be competing with Leno anymore. And if NBC’s replacement for Fallon’s 12:30 a.m. slot is also based in New York, that will mean even more competition in Gotham for guests.
Leno has been taking lots of shots over the last few weeks at NBC’s poor prime-time performance in his opening monologue. However, that is not tied to the Fallon plan. He got miffed when NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt complained to him about jokes he made last month about Univision surpassing NBC in the ratings race for adults under age 50. Since that email, Leno has continued using NBC’s ratings as material for his opening remarks.
If NBC is successful in pulling off a Leno-Fallon succession, attention will turn to CBS, where David Letterman is also approaching the finish line. Craig Ferguson currently occupies the post-Letterman time slot.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.