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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Jay Leno will leave "The Tonight Show" for the second time on Feb. 6. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Doubts abound as "The Tonight Show" transition is set


You'll have to forgive my treading lightly here.

In the past, I've been duped. I was swindled. I was hoodwinked.

I used to care about who hosted different late night talk shows, until the passing of the torches wreaked havoc … not everyone does havoc like in the "Games of Thrones," but close enough.

When NBC was presenting plans with network affiliates, "The Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson surprised those running the peacock network by letting it be known that in May of 1992, he was retiring.

Then the speculation started. It was a big deal in the early 90s about who would take the chair and deck at the most-watched late evening program ever.

David Letterman at NBC's "Late Night" seemed to be a natural pick as Carson was instrumental in helping the lanky comic launch the show that aired after his.

Joan Rivers, Jay Leno and other subs for Carson also emerged as the front runners to take over.

We all know that the job went to Leno. Letterman was deeply upset by the move and jumped over to CBS to launch "The Late Show."

Other late night shows came and went. Arsenio Hall went into syndication, "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sayjak was on the air, and Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin had shows in the past.

Beyond Jimmy Kimmel who is currently on ABC, the network once had late night shows with Joey Bishop, Rick Dees, Less Crane, Bill Maher, Jack Paar, Ted Koppel and Geraldo Rivera … among others.

At CBS, Stephen Bishop, Sinbad, Joy Behar, Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson all had parts in productions.

NBC had Jack Parr, Steve Allen, Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Carson Daly and Jimmy Fallon.

Fox and independent stations picked up a number of syndicated shows with hosts like Mary Hartman, Alan Thicke, Byron Allen, Dr. Ruth, Dennis Miller, Whoppi Goldberg and Magic Johnson. Cable outlets have also gotten into the game with Jon Stewart and Craig Kilborn on "The Daily Show." Conan O'Brien is on TBS, which also had George Lopez at one time. Chelsey Handler, Pete Holmes and Stacy London were on the late night schedules.

But nothing beats the moves NBC made, when Conan O'Brien was given "The Tonight Show" stage. His "Late Night" was doing well and the network wanted to extend his contact. O'Brien agreed with the extension that included a transition to take over for Leno.

Leno didn't want to go. The station gave him his own show in primetime that flopped. It failed as a promotional platform to local news, which cut the potential numbers for O'Brien.

Conan was sent on his way (with a nice severance) and Leno weaseled back to his old gig.

Resentment was huge as this whole process played out in the public eye.

Now, we have the planed out process to transition Jimmy Fallon to the "Tonight" show. Will it all go as it is spelled out? We shall see.

Feb. 6: Jay Leno done at the "Tonight Show," after 22 years and the mess with Conan O'Brien. Main guest will be Billy Crystal. Jimmy Fallon will be on hand for passing of the torch on Feb. 3.

Feb. 7: Winter Olympics coverage starts on NBC.

Feb. 17: With Olympics coverage in its second week, Fallon starts on "Tonight." U2 will perform and actor Will Smith will be the first guest at the program returns to New York. With Fallon, I'm guessing Justin Timberlake and Bruce Springsteen are good guesses for early appearances.

Feb. 24: "Saturday Night Live" writer and "Weekend Update" host Seth Meyers takes over "Late Night," with first guest Amy Poehler.

Talkbacks

TosaJim | Jan. 22, 2014 at 3:46 p.m. (report)

Never cared much for Leno....to me he was just a stand-up comedian, who happened to host a late night tv show....but Jimmy Fallon has got it all...he's funny...he can sing...he's a real entertainer.... I look forward to taping and watching his shows (who stays up that late?) :)

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