Most of the coverage has been about Leno taking with him a commanding ratings lead in late-night, not only among total viewers but also in the 18-49 age bracket advertisers covet. And in the days leading up to his exit, The Reporters Who Cover Television dusted off think pieces about Leno leaving the show in the wake of a demographic shift affecting millions of baby boomers who are being pushed aside to make way for a younger generation with different sensibilities. In many ways, Leno’s handoff to Fallon does mirror the first time the press wrote those think pieces, when NBC replaced Leno with his lead-out, Conan O’Brien in 2009 – a plan that famously flamed out over seven months.
But the bigger news here is the incredible gift Leno’s been given: a handoff do-over.
It’s a loaded gift for Leno. He owes much of his ratings success, and longevity, to the fact that he’s much adored in flyover country — Leno won last month’s 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll asking which late-night host was most likely to make you laugh, handily beating his latest replacement Fallon, his first replacement O’Brien, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Craig Ferguson. But the media doesn’t like Leno so much, having pegged him decades ago as the closet-hiding, eavesdropper who backstabbed their late-night crushes Letterman and, later, O’Brien.