Jimmy Fallon has been crowned the next king of late-night television, but the empire has seen better days.
“Late Night” host Fallon, who will succeed Jay Leno in “The Tonight Show” chair in 2014, is charged with trying to reenergize a franchise that has lost much of its luster as viewers flock to cable television and the Internet.
After more than 20 years on the air, Leno averages just 3.5 million viewers a night. That’s good enough for first place in its time slot, but not enough to keep NBC happy.
While it is unlikely that the 38-year-old Fallon can reverse decades of declining ratings, NBC is hoping he will be fresher than the 62-year-old Leno. Advertisers pay a premium to reach viewers younger than 50, and fewer of those folks are watching Leno..
Late night is still valuable real estate. Advertisers spent close to $6 billion on it last year.
NBC insiders think Fallon’s boyish enthusiasm will be a better fit for “The Tonight Show” than O’Brien’s snarkier, more cerebral style. Fallon’s show hinges on performance comedy and bits harkening back to the Carson era.
“He’s more likable and more mainstream and he’ll keep more of Jay Leno’s viewers than Conan O’Brien did,” said Brad Adgate, a senior vice president of research for Horizon Media, a media buying agency.
In a statement, Leno congratulated his successor, Fallon, and added, “I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy.”