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What's next for Jay Leno? Weighing the options

President Barack Obama chats with host Jay Leno

President Barack Obama chats with host Jay Leno during a break in the taping of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” at NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif. (Oct. 24, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Jay Leno isn't really going anywhere despite what you may have read. He will leave "The Tonight Show" by next fall, but -- just to bowdlerize the old saying -- when the TV gods close a window, a door opens someplace else.

What's the door for Jay?

There's been all sorts of speculation -- everywhere -- all of it intriguing and certainly feasible. The bottom line: Jay will be appearing somewhere on a channel near you. That's a given.

 1.) Syndication: It's always the first option that always appears -- and appeals -- to talent. Get your own show, own a piece, make a mint, etc. As far as Leno is concerned, however, syndication is mostly -- though not exclusively -- a daytime game, where most shows are designed to appeal to a largely female viewership. This doesn't quite feel like a Leno demo however, and the most successful shows here tend to be legal ones. "Judge Jay?" Doesn't have a ring.

 2.) Fox: The New York Post a couple of weeks ago made a call to the Fox affiliate chief who said -- sure! We're interested in a late night show with Leno. As I've written -- and others, too, of course -- endlessly over the years, Fox stations have always expressed "interest" in late night, but when it comes to putting the money where their collective mouths are, they always balk. Most stations are locked into lucrative late night syndication deals and there's no obvious reason for any of 'em to derail those; it's easy money . . . and TV loves easy money. I'm also told Fox has no interest in getting into late night -- at all. That could change of course if a talent of Leno's magnitude comes on the market . . . but it sure didn't when Conan was available.

3.)  CNN: This certifiably unusual idea was raised by Brian Lowry of Variety, and while unusual, there's much logic to it as well. Leno as  host of a 9 p.m. Larry King-like hour that mixes interviews with a bit of comedy, etc.? It'd get numbers -- no doubt -- and Jay knows how to conduct an interview. What he doesn't do particularly well is hold a tough interview. His "Tonight" style is to throw softies, not harpies, nor can one imagine him holding forth (say) on the Cyprian banking crisis. But -- you say -- he wouldn't have to! Let others do Cyprus, let Leno do Bieber! It would be a late night comedy show on CNN in prime . . . Is there a law against that? No but it certainly does seem odd and contrary to the old CNN mantra of news first . . . But before we entirely write this one off, check out the photo above. Leno can interview "newsmakers" and there's certainly no reason why he can't do it on CNN.

4.) Fox News Channel: Since we're playing with ideas here, why not FNC? It has long been assumed that Jay appeals to a largely conservative red state crowd, while David Letterman appeals to that other color. Jay in prime time on FNC? How about "Fair and Balanced with Jay?"  He'd have to unseat someone already there, but that 10 p.m. hour looks vulnerable.

5.) CBS, ABC: These options have to be explored, though neither seems particularly feasible in late night for obvious reasons. But what about prime? "The Jay Leno Variety Show?," Sundays at 8 on ABC. The obstacle here might be Leno; he likes frequency -- he's a joke machine, don't forget, who covets the TV exposure -- and a once or twice a week gig might feel like retirement to him,

6.) Other cable networks: Here's where the real opportunities may indeed lie. A Jay-hosted-"Tonight"-like show on A&E or E! or any number of other places with the same financial resources as a broadcast network? Leno thinks of himself as a broadcast guy but this is now merely semantics. Broadcast? Cable? Viewers don't care about the difference. Why should he? But he will. Leno is very much old school. The idea of going from "Tonight" to cable would bug him to no end, even though Conan has done it successfully.

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