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Report: NBC mulls 'Tonight Show' change (but NBC says no)

From left, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon, now

From left, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon, now rivals on late-night talk shows, pose backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards show at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Jan. 13, 2013) Credit: MCT

Will Jay Leno be making an exit -- a final one -- from "The Tonight Show" in 2014?

A report in the Hollywood Report says (perhaps) so, and while couched with official network denials and "maybes," there appears to be a certain degree of firmness to this story, which indicates a "May announcement" -- obviously the upfront -- saying the 2013-14 season will be Jay's last. 

Here's the takeaway line in the THR story by Kim Masters: Sources expect the network to move Jimmy Fallon from his Late Night spot into the coveted 11:35 time slot with a soft launch during the summer of 2014 before a formal fall kickoff.

Nevertheless, NBC is telling reporters the story is wrong, or per the network's top spokeswoman, "we are categorically denying [it.]"

There has certainly been speculation about this for months (hey, years!), dating to another story, which broke in Deadline, that Jay had agreed to significant budget cuts and layoffs, possibly to avert an end run by corporate to install Jimmy Fallon in his place. (Fallon, coincidentally, joked with First lady Michelle Obama the other night that he was "in the running" for "Tonight" after she said she'd like to take Jay Leno's place someday.) 

If there's any truth to this, one wonders whether Leno woud go quietly this time or whether fans would let him: They staged a Nielsen revolt when Conan arrived in part because Jay has long been a far more comfortable presence for most longtime "Tonight" viewers; Jay returned and numbers bounced up. He's under contract through '14, and so is David Letterman. (Jay leave before Dave? Banish the thought.) 

But of couse the other concern is Fallon, himself a big star with a devoted audience. He's hot right now, and so was Conan all those years ago when another NBC executive gave him "Tonight" -- after other networks sent out feelers. Are "other networls" sending out feelers to Jimmy, perhaps making NBC nervous? More fun speculation...

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