Jimmy Fallon has been crowned the next king of late-night television, but the empire he will inherit has seen better days.
"Late Night" host Fallon, who will succeed Jay Leno in "The Tonight Show" chair in 2014, is charged with trying to reenergize a franchise that has lost much of its luster as viewers flock to cable television and the Internet for entertainment.
Once an appearance on "The Tonight Show" could turn an unknown into a star overnight. Now a video on YouTube can do that.
"In the '70s and '80s, there was nothing else like it on TV," said Chet Fenster, managing partner of the advertising firm MEC Entertainment. "But now there are many other places to become a star."
When Johnny Carson retired as host of "The Tonight Show" in 1992, more than 40 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen. A few nights later, when Leno took over, about 16 million people watched.
Now, after more than 20 years on the air, Leno's show averages just 3.5 million viewers a night. That's good enough for first place in its time slot, but not good enough to keep NBC happy.
The plethora of late-night choices consumers have today includes David Letterman on CBS and Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, as well as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler and Conan O'Brien, all who have loyal followings on cable. This fall, Arsenio Hall — a former challenger to Leno's throne — will also return to late night.
While it is unlikely that the 38-year-old Fallon can reverse decades of declining ratings, NBC is hoping he will be fresher than the 62-year-old Leno. Advertisers pay a premium to reach viewers under the age of 50, and fewer of those folks are watching Leno.