NBC has a big decision to make in the late-night arena. According to many reports, Jay Leno is on the outs -- for good, supposedly. The network has to figure out a message and the best time to deliver it.
Jimmy Fallon of NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" is all but assured to be the new leader of "The Tonight Show." The aim seems to have Fallon start after the Sochi Winter Olympics next February.
Say what you will about NBC's regular season non-sports programming, the Olympics continue to bring in the crowds and to help promote upcoming new shows and returning series. That said, following last year’s Summer Olympics, NBC only got somewhat sustained benefit for its new drama "Revolution."
The summer games provided NBC with an early push for the upcoming debut of “Revolution” and other new primetime shows. As a result, things looked pretty good for the network in the fall, even with most of its success coming from "The Voice" and "Sunday Night Football," two returning proven franchises.
Then the first quarter of 2013 hit NBC -- the wrong way. This is not to say the Olympics promotion effort was wrong. Nor will it be when and if a new Fallon-hosted "Tonight Show" gains the Olympic launch pad. Fallon is a proven commodity with strong young-viewer appeal. Olympics promotion couldn't hurt.
Maybe it has been no coincidence that just after ABC shifted "Jimmy Kimmel LIve" to 11:35 p.m. in the new year, stories immediately started about Fallon possibly replacing Leno. Leno still leads all late-night shows, but by a razor-thin margin. NBC executives are clearly worried about the future, with the new competition and appeal to young viewers from the likes of Kimmel.
Of course, NBC has been through this before. In one of TV’s most colossal program marketing blunders, the network announced, years in advance, that Conan O'Brien would come in to helm "Tonight." NBC then installed him in that position early, and just a few months later, quickly removed him.
NBC is still seeking the magic bullet for the future of its prized "Tonight" show franchise. Conditions have changed for the network, including more strong late-night competition on both broadcast and cable, and more real-time social media buzz surrounding all things TV. Good luck in figuring it out, TV marketing executives.