Why Jimmy Fallon will Not be a Successful Replacement for Jay Leno
Many of my recent posts have been a bit too abstract, and therefore I am going to write one about something a bit more frivolous and contemporary. As most of you must have heard for a few months, Jimmy Fallon is going to replace Jay Leno as the host of ‘The Tonight Show‘ in the later half of February 2014. As most of you also know, this is not the first time NBC tried to replace Jay Leno as the host of that late night variety entertainment program.
I predict that this attempt to replace Jay Leno will also fail in stabilizing, let alone increasing, the viewership of that show over more than a few months.
But before telling you my hypothesis about why Jimmy Fallon will not succeed, let us take a quick look at the mindset behind this decision. The upper executive ranks of NBC, like almost every other large corporation in the western world, are populated by a very specific subcategory of people. They are, by and large, people who got into their current positions via some combination of luck, connections and bull-shitting. The vast majority of senior executives in large corporations have no interest or stake in the future of the institutions they control beyond the next quarterly financial report.
These executives will always receive excellent compensation- whether the corporation they run succeeds or fails. Nor is their incompetence a barrier to a similar or better job at another large corporation. They will also never enjoy the public recognition and popularity of the actors and other celebrities who are the public face of their corporation. The confluence of these conditions ensures that most of their professional decisions are rooted in personal likes, dislikes, fashions, power plays and other petty considerations typically associated with the inter-personal behavior of adolescent girls.
So what does any of this mean for the decision to get a new host for a late-night TV program?
Well.. it comes down to their justification for that action. The official version of the story is that Jay Leno’s tenure as the host of that show was just not giving them the kind of ratings they had once hoped for. They were also “concerned” that the median age of the average regular viewer of that show was in the mid- to late- 50s. But can either issue be fixed by replacing him with Jimmy Fallon or anybody else?
Let me ask you a simple question- When was the last time you sat through the majority, let alone an entire episode, of a late night talk show on one of the big networks? I have not done that in almost ten years and I can bet that many of you are in the same boat. The growing popularity of programs on non-basic cable channels, the astronomical increase of searchable media on the internet, YouTube and its clones, NetFlix and other subscription services, mobile internet devices and social media platforms have pulled (and fragmented) the 40- and under crowd away from traditional TV programming. Consequently the only people regularly watching traditional TV programming are in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
Changing the host of a late night show to someone who is younger, “hipper” or more “web-savvy” does not address the fundamental limitations and handicaps of network TV programming. The big networks simply cannot keep up with their much faster and nimbler competitors in the great race for an ever-increasing number of eyeballs. This is not to say that network TV will die out anytime soon, but it is obvious that they will have to cater to an increasingly older and slowly shrinking audience. And this brings me to the main reason why Fallon will not be a successful replacement for Leno as the new host of ‘The Tonight Show’.
Jimmy Fallon simply has the wrong demographic and stylistic profile for most regular viewers of that show.
Jay Leno, at 63, is in the middle of the demographic that regularly watches his show. He is very relateable to most of his audience at multiple levels- from his physical appearance, comedic style, world view to the content of his program. Jimmy Fallon, at 39, is a full generation younger than Leno and has to try hard to be someone he is clearly not- and it shows!
A secondary factor working against Fallon is the strong desire of NBC to attract a younger crowd. I can bet that this desire will somehow translate into some focus-group and consultant driven alterations to the show format that will alienate the core viewership while failing to attract enough younger replacements- resulting in yet more of the same till the downward cycle eventually killing the show. Meanwhile the executives who made these disastrous decisions will have moved on to another corporation where they will do more of the same.
What do you think? Comments?