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Is NBC planning another late night shake-up? Word is, the network may be planning to move Leno out and Fallon up. Though nothing is confirmed yet and may not be until spring, next season (2013-2014) may be Jay Leno's last season on The Tonight Show. While Leno's ratings are still holding strong, NBC may be looking to push Jimmy Fallon to the late night slot to compete against Jimmy Kimmel's growing audience of younger viewers at ABC.
THR reported the rumor, stating that NBC says "categorically no" to this rumor, but THR's high-level industry sources tell them that NBC is aiming to make an announcement in May that Leno's last season will be 2013-2014, which is next season. Their sources also say Jimmy Fallon will move from his Late Night spot, up to the prime late night 11:35 time slot, which would put him up against Letterman on CBS and Jimmy Kimmel on ABC. It sounds like Jimmy Kimmel Live's growing popularity among the younger-skewed audience is at least partially the cause of this rumored decision, as one source notes, "The more time Jimmy Kimmel is in that slot, the more the young audience goes that way, the harder it is for Jimmy [Fallon] to keep that audience."
Going from past experience, NBC may be hesitant to make any kind of official (or unofficial) announcement about their plans until they're 100% ready and sure of their course. The mess made the last time Jay Leno exited The Tonight Show, when Conan O'Brien temporarily assumed the hosting job, is probably not forgotten by the network, and won't be anytime soon. But there's also the matter of CBS to consider and securing Fallon for the long haul. As THR points out, if Letterman retires next year, CBS might make a grab for Fallon to replace him. That would not be good for NBC, especially given Kimmel's growing popularity, so moving Fallon to 11:35 sooner rather than later could be their best chance of keeping him around.
While all there is right now is rumor and speculation, we might need to be prepared for a major announcement from NBC at some point this spring, whether that be May during the upfronts or sooner.