NEW YORK -- Why couldn't NBC just leave well enough alone?
But, no, word leaked last week that Late Night host Jimmy Fallon will unseat Jay Leno as the new host of the "Tonight" show.
This change (which, mind you, NBC hasn't confirmed) isn't likely to stop the world in its tracks. Still, the prospect of another round of talk-show turbulence has everybody talking, and the questions it raises could keep a viewer awake long past Fallon's current 12:30 a.m. time slot.
The biggest question: Why do we care?
Because the late-night follies of television executives are often funnier than TV's intended entertainment. Name an NBC program with more laughs, intrigue, double-dealing and disgrace than when the network moved Jay Leno to prime time and handed Conan O'Brien the Tonight show, then reversed itself several months later, bringing back Leno and losing Conan (along with his $45 million exit payment). These days NBC's prime time is in shambles. Bungling at Today ended NBC's morning dominance. Can NBC go three-for-three by screwing with its late-night lineup?
Why would NBC be so hasty saying farewell to Leno, the 11:30 p.m. champ for most of two decades who continues to command a larger audience than anyone else in late night?
Because Leno, at age 62, is nearing shuffleboard status and has a contract expiring next year. Fallon is a youthful 38, also with a contract expiring. NBC doesn't want to lose him to a rival -- especially to CBS, where he might serve as a successor to Letterman.
-- The Associated Press