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Jimmy Fallon faces impossible 'Tonight Show' task (+video)

As 'Tonight Show' host, Jimmy Fallon will try to hold on to Jay Leno's traditional audience while also tempting the social media generation. Analysts say he might not be able to do both.

By Staff writer / April 3, 2013

Jay Leno, host of 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' (l.) and Jimmy Fallon, host of 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon' are backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., earlier his year.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/File


Los Angeles

Now that speculation has become confirmed fact – Jimmy Fallon will replace Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" next spring – the question many are asking is: Why fix a show that isn’t broke? After all, Mr. Leno has been routinely winning his time slot against longtime competitor David Letterman and holding his own against upstart Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.

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Can Saturday Night Live alum Mr. Fallon do a better job?

In NBC's eyes, "Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent, and this is his time,” NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke told the Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication. “We are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was No. 1."

But media analysts say NBC is doing its best to find a balance between the disintegrating network television model that "The Tonight Show" dominated for decades and the new viewing patterns among young people, who are as likely to connect with "The Tonight Show" though Twitter as through a TV remote.

While NBC feels Fallon will have broad appeal, his strengths clearly lean toward the younger demographics, analysts say, and that could mean the network will pay a ratings price for its efforts to become more a part of the social media buzz.

“They have to plan for the future, but in order to do that they have to sacrifice the one thing that they have in place, which is a stable audience of older viewers,” says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York.

The network needs to prepare for competition against younger hosts such as Mr. Kimmel, but in order to do that they will risk alienating an audience, he says, “that doesn’t care about social media and couldn’t care less about viral videos.”


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