Gay is the television critic.
"The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."
Let the words roll around in your head. Think about them. Absorb them. Rue them . . . or cheer them. But sooner or later, you're going to have to deal with them: Jimmy Fallon, 38, will be the sixth host of television's most famous program.
Of course, which day he takes over has suddenly become a pressing matter. The Hollywood Reporter -- not in the business of parading unfounded gossip or innuendo -- over the weekend categorically said NBC would announce in May that the 2013-14 season will be Jay Leno's last, while Fallon will be named his successor; NBC just as quickly issued a categorical denial.
So noted. But in television, one is advised to always follow the money, and money (in television) always follows youth. Fallon's "Late Night" is both hot AND cool -- he's creatively allied with one of pop music's biggest stars, Justin Timberlake, while his house band, The Roots, may well be the best group anywhere on TV.
But this eventual succession is probably more about another Jimmy, who moved to 11:35 p.m. -- Leno territory -- in January. When Matt Damon staged a "takeover" of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Jan. 24, it clobbered "Tonight" and "Late Show with David Letterman," especially among younger viewers. It now ties or edges out "Tonight."
And so here is the fundamental math to remember: Leno, who turns 63 next month, hosts a "Tonight" whose audience isn't getting any younger or any bigger; Jimmy Kimmel's is. How do you fight fire? With fire. Fallon will be the next "Tonight" host: It's just a question of when.