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Why is NBC messing with Jay Leno? Theory 1: Fox

Jimmy Fallon and Josh Duhamel take part in

Jimmy Fallon and Josh Duhamel take part in "Cooler Races" during a taping of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." Duhamel stopped by the show to talk about his latest film, "Safe Haven." (Feb. 12, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Why is NBC pushing aside Jay Leno for Jimmy Fallon? You may have read my first post on this (see below) which comes under the broad heading of "late night host envy." But there are clearly other reasons why NBC is about to drop kick Jay once again — compelling, intriguing ones, and in a series of posts, I'll get into those right now. Caveat emptor: These are born of nothing but hunch and many years of reporting on late night nonsense . . .

So theory No. 1: Fox.

A little over a decade ago, then-Fox chief Peter Chernin made a hard-sell attempt to land Conan O'Brien. He got (some) affiliates behind the plan, most importantly Rupert Murdoch. Fox has wanted to get into late night forever. Fox began in late night — with Joan Rivers. This is Fox's great white whale — the one last daypart and genre that it wants and can't get. And you know human nature or at least the Stones lyric goes — you can't always get what you want, but . . . Chernin's push forced NBC to make Conan a counter-offer, and you know the rest of the history.

So has Fox made a run at Jimmy Fallon? This certainly is conceivable. Jimmy has it all — talent primarily — and is a perfect fit to the audience Fox covets, young men, 18-49.

Fox also made a run for Conan when the "Tonight Show" imploded, but that fizzled out for reasons still to be explained. Affiliates? They had to be a roadblock ("Seinfeld" reruns after all do quite well you may have heard) and would be with a Fallon pitch too. The difference: Jimmy is hot right now, and Conan, coming off the "Tonight" fiasco, was not. That TBS offer looked awfully tempting for Co — especially after Fox walked.

But Jimmy . . . aw, Jimmy. You can just hear Fox bossman Peter Rice saying the name over and over and over in his head . . . "Jimmy . . . Jimmy . . ."

OK, enough of that. Sounds weird. But you get my drift. Is this true? I suspect the answer is almost certainly "no."  It's a fun theory. It's a plausible theory. But Fox is probably done chasing that whale. The network has got other challenges, and late night come under the heading of "headache." Who needs that?  

 But that's my first theory in the "Why is NBC messing with Jay Leno" game. Check back here shortly for Theory # 2.

Tags: nbc , fox , conan o'brien , jimmy fallon , jay leno , tonight show , lorne michaels

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