Fallon, Leno and Late Night: What the Shakeup Could Mean to the Music Biz

Jay Leno Jimmy Fallon Globes Horizontal - H 2013
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Jay Leno Jimmy Fallon Globes Horizontal - H 2013

If NBC follows through on its plan to base the Tonight Show in New York come 2014, the biggest smiles may well be on the faces of Scott Igoe and the music booking team at ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live.

With Burbank out of the picture, Kimmel will be the only network option in Los Angeles in the 11:30 p.m. hour, giving the show extra clout when it comes to attracting star acts that have traditionally picked the higher-rated Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Considering the number of Hollywood products that rely on the locals to get the word out, the Kimmel couch becomes considerably more valuable real estate – yes location! location! location! can refer to a studio on Hollywood Boulevard -- for stars the week their movies open. Bigger movie stars should mean larger audiences for the musical acts that close Kimmel’s show nightly.

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The good news for the music industry, should the reported plan to tap Jimmy Fallon as Tonight Show host and base his show at 30 Rock come to fruition, is that forward-thinking music programming will dominate late-night television. The strength of Fallon’s reputation relies heavily on its musical hipness and openness to experimentation, from the then-novel idea of the Roots as a house band to weeklong programs involving Justin Timberlake, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones. Fallon’s musical booker Jonathan Cohen has proven particularly prescient in spotting talent on the verge of breakthrough; no other show has as rich a combination of established acts and performers known mostly from blog write-ups and club tours poised for breakthroughs.

A New York edition will have some stiff musical competition in CBS’ Late Night With David Letterman, where producer Sheila Rogers has expertly expanded the vision of the show’s role in presenting music, whether it’s concerts outside the Ed Sullivan Theater and/or online where artist’s performances extend well beyond the last four minutes of a night’s show. CBS just began offering day-after streams of Late Night via the network’s app on iPhones and iPads, another asset in the Letterman booking arsenal.

Music has long appeared to be an after-thought on Tonight, tacked on to the end of the night as if a favor is being repaid. It’s another story at Kimmel where this week they launched a new year-long deal with Sony Electronics as concert series partner, beginning with the March 19 appearance of T.I. The relationship, which will end before Leno departs, will include 146 concerts that will live on a newly launched Jimmy Kimmel Live Music YouTube Channel. That alone increases Kimmel’s value to the music industry as a whole.

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Bookers’ goals, no matter which coast they’re on, is exclusivity. That definition can be more than a first time appearance to promote a new album: TBS’ Conan, in addition to Letterman, has done well to extend musical performances onto the Internet. Fallon, meanwhile, has been able to offer multiple performance opportunities on-air; it will be intriguing to see what publicists are able to bargain for should the shows be going head-to-head with offers.

Right now, the shows look like they are worlds apart. Letterman’s lineup leans older and softer in coming days with Aaron Neville, Ed Sheeran and Pegi Young. Kimmel has newcomer Lianne La Havas and Luke Bryan this week; Leno has Wiz Khalifa featuring Akon, Crystal Bowersox, Django Django and Josh Groban.

Coming soon to Fallon are Sigur Ros, Wale, Dido, Blake Shelton and, straight from SXSW, U.K. act Little Green Cars. Those bookings clearly have a different vibe than the others.

As occurred in March 2010, when NBC moved Leno to primetime and put Conan O’Brien behind the Tonight Show desk, the lineup shake-up comes at time when audiences are responding well to both hosts and their programs: Leno and Fallon won their timeslots in the February sweeps period in overall viewers and the 18-49 demographic.

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Tonight averaged 3.51 million viewers overall and 1.003 million adults 18-49 vs. "Late Show’s" 3.292 million (overall)/929,000 (18-49) and Kimmel’s 2.53 million (overall)/898,000 (18-49), according to Nielsen Media Research. Late Night attracted 1.66 million viewers overall of which 646,000 were in the 18-49 demo.

An announcement is expected at the May upfront as to who will be where and when in 2014 – the Leno-Fallon switch could reportedly come as soon as after the Winter Olympics – but there’s no denying the late-night game will become a more musically interesting battle with two New York shows in the 11:30 mix.