This time around, Jimmy Fallon is in the unenviable position of being the man that the network has chosen to replace Jay Leno, most likely in Fall 2014, when Leno's contract with NBC will expire.
Bill Carter, the New York Times reporter that specializes in covering the late night network talk shows, reported on Friday that Leno and the chairman of NBC Entertainment, Robert Greenblatt, had engaged in an unpleasant email exchange, related to some jokes that Leno told about NBC's well-documented prime time-ratings woes.
NBC's fear appears to be that Jimmy Kimmel will establish a foothold with younger viewers in the 11:35 timeslot, thereby ending their dominance there, and damaging one of the biggest money-making shows on the network.
While the network has yet to announce the move publicly, sources told the New York Daily News that not only is this likely to happen, but used the phrases "done deal" and "a matter of when", after word broke on Wednesday that construction has begun on a new Tonight Show set in NBC's famous "30 Rock" building, and that The Tonight Show would be moving back to New York for the first time since 1972, whenever Fallon takes over.
NBC is also eager to secure Fallon for the long haul, as his contract reportedly also expires around the same time that Leno's deal does, which also coincides with the end of David Letterman's current contract with CBS.
Letterman has been uncharacteristically complimentary of Fallon in recent months, going so far as to have him as a guest on his show. While I don't doubt that Letterman sincerely likes Fallon, I also don't doubt that he might have been trying to stir the pot a bit, publicly wooing the hottest property in late night, just as everyone's contracts are set to expire.
To further complicate matters, Leno continues to regularly win his timeslot, both in total viewers, and in the coveted 18-49 demographic as well, making this situation eerily similar to 2009, when NBC gave Conan O'Brien the 11:35 timeslot, even as Leno delivered ratings.
NBC chose to reinstate Leno, due to sagging Tonight Show ratings, and Leno's ill-fated, prime time Jay Leno Show bombed in the ratings at 10 PM. O'Brien hosted the show from June 1, 2009 to January 22, 2010. After several weeks of reruns, Leno was back in his familar post on March 1, 2010.