NBC Has More Problems Than Just 'Tonight Show' Hosts

NBC announced Wednesday that Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno next spring. But NBC has a raft of other problems including a rocky ride in prime time. Plus, it fell from first place last fall to fifth in February — behind not just the other broadcast networks but the Spanish language Univision.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. So Frommer's guidebooks will stay the same. "The Tonight Show" is changing. This is a long-running television network drama - the saga of NBC easing Jay Leno out of the chair. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Leno will be replaced next year by Jimmy Fallon, in a show based in New York City.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The course of late night never did run smooth - not two decades ago, when NBC brass vacillated between David Letterman and Jay Leno; not a few years back, with the abortive run with Conan O'Brien; and not last month, when the top-rated Leno joked about his bosses with some edge.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

JAY LENO: Well, you know the whole legend of Saint Patrick, right? Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. And then they came into the United States and became NBC executives. It's a fascinating story.

FOLKENFLIK: It was one in a relentless series of punch lines at the network's expense - mirroring Leno's genuine anger. But viewers detected an easing earlier this week, as Leno joined Fallon in a duet set to the tune of "West Side Story's" "Tonight."

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

LENO: (Singing) So the network said, here's an idea; pack your bags, take a hike, NBC-ya...

FOLKENFLIK: The skit reflected the two hosts' rapport, but NBC has a raft of other problems. It's had a rocky ride in prime time. It fell from first, last fall, to fifth, in February, in the ratings; behind not just the other broadcast networks but the Spanish language network Univision. And in the morning, "The Today Show" has been deposed by ABC's "Good Morning America," costing NBC pride and many millions of dollars.

Speculation is so rife that host Matt Lauer will be replaced that the network has had to deny it. Of course, last month, NBC denied Leno's long stint was about to end, too.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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