Sussing out Jay Leno’s fate on ‘Tonight Show’

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters - Comedian Jay Leno attends the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2010.

The guy who led the first charge to dump late-night ratings king Jay Leno from NBC’s “Tonight Show” now runs a ratings-starved cable-news network. And Thursday, that cable network’s new star looked to improve his own disappointing early ratings by interviewing The Man Most Likely to Dance on Leno’s Grave (a.k.a. Jimmy Kimmel) about the inevitability that Leno will get dumped a second time.

“It makes perfect sense,” Kimmel told Jake Tapper, who was recently hired to star in “The Lead” by CNN chief Jeff Zucker.

(Richard Cartwright/AP) - “Obviously, NBC is looking to move on, because they did it once already,” Jimmy Kimmel said of the network’s plans for Jay Leno.

Zucker’s the guy who masterminded Leno’s 2009 ouster from the late-night franchise to keep Conan O’Brien from jumping networks — one of the bigger disasters in TV history.

Part of that disaster involved a cost-conscious plan to “strip” a Leno talk show across NBC’s entire week at 10 p.m. Leno’s prime-time show coughed up ratings that were derided at the time but that most of NBC’s 10 p.m. shows this season would be pleased to have.

“Do you think it’s a direct — it has to be — a direct response to you coming” into the 11:35 p.m. time slot? Tapper asked of NBC’s apparent late-night plans.

“God, I hope so,” responded Kimmel, who is best known as the David Letterman obsessive who hates Leno with a white-hot fury for Leno’s having done Dave out of the “Tonight” gig when Johnny Carson retired about two decades ago, among other offenses.

The Reporters Who Cover Television have suggested that with NBC’s morning show in disarray and its prime time barely registering a pulse, the network nonetheless decided that now was the time to wade back into the late-night succession nightmare. NBC would do this, the Reporters hinted, because the network was worried about ABC’ s move of Kimmel’s show to the 11:35 p.m. time slot — opposite Leno and CBS’s Letterman. That’s because Kimmel is about 20 years younger than Jay and Dave.

“Obviously, NBC is looking to move on because they did it once already. This would be the second time that this has happened,” Kimmel reminded Tapper, although it’s unlikely that Tapper was not well-versed in his new boss’s back story.

“Jimmy Fallon is doing a great job. And he’s very popular,” Kimmel continued, referring to the NBC talk-show host who airs after Leno. “And so, I mean, hey, eventually, it’s going to happen one way or the other. I mean, one way or the other, [it’s going] to have to happen, right? Right?”

“Obviously, you’re younger. Obviously, you’ve got a contemporary, more modern sensibility,” Tapper cooed at Kimmel during the interview.

He was surprised when Kimmel came back with: “I have to be honest with you. I hate that ‘younger’ thing.”

“Why?” Tapper asked.

“Because I imagine myself . . . hopefully doing this job when I get older. And I just think it’s like — it’s unfair. People age. It’s just how it works.”

That maybe was not the best segue into Voiceover Tapper saying, “Quicker than he expected, Kimmel proved himself competitive with the coveted younger demographic.”

In fact, in the 10 weeks since Kimmel debuted at 11:35 p.m., he’s beaten Leno just twice among 18- to 49-year-olds (the currency of late-night ad sales): his first week in the slot and in Week 9, when Leno was in repeats and Kimmel aired originals. (Among 18-to-34-year-old viewers, Kimmel is averaging only about 14,000 more than Leno.)

Too bad that intrepid journalist Tapper didn’t instead ask Kimmel whether he had an ulterior motive in wishing Fallon the “Tonight Show” gig.

HBO’s moves

Owing to a lack of viewer interest, HBO killed its comedy series about a mid-level corporate suit who, after a nervous breakdown, subjects those around her to her spiritual reawakening. And HBO has just ordered a comedy pilot about nurses, doctors and administrators at the women’s geriatric extended-care wing of a down-at-the-heels hospital.

“It was a very difficult decision,” HBO said in a statement about the cancellation of “Enlightened” and the pickup of “Getting On.”

The second-season wrap of “Enlightened,” which starred Laura Dern, clocked just 185,000 viewers in its initial telecast March 3 — less than one-third the crowd that flocked to HBO’s “Girls” that same night.

“Getting On” is so named because that’s what the original BBC series — on which HBO’s new pilot is based — is called. “Big Love” creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer are behind the U.S. version of “Getting On,” which will star Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein and Niecy Nash.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, visit washingtonpost.com/
tvblog.

 
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