Leno’s California roost provided a more middle-America, mainstream comic vibe. Leno is no conservative, but can anyone imagine Fallon, Kimmel or Letterman joking as Leno did this week that AP will no longer use the term “illegal immigrant,” choosing instead “undocumented Democrat?”
Maybe the networks presume that the 50-plus audience just isn’t consuming these late-night shows any more. But who is? They do not seem to show up on the radar of Generation-Y millennials.
But even at mitigated viewer levels, there are millions of people, and thus millions of dollars, up for grabs in the ratings race about to unfold after our late local news.
As for Leno, there is a natural destination for him if it can be worked out: Fox.
Maybe they are still gun-shy after the unmitigated disaster of “The Chevy Chase Show” 20 years ago. But here is their chance to uniquely offer a show tailored to the comic sensibilities of people born before the moon landings.
Fallon and Kimmel will do just fine wielding the sharp edges that have served them well. Letterman will do whatever he wants until he decides to retire. If he has a platform, Leno can grab the slice of audience more interested in “NCIS” than “The Daily Show,” a big chunk of America that likes its jokes a little tamer, and its musical acts a little less jarring.
Sure, that’s a crowd more comfortable in Branson than the Hamptons, but they have TVs, too-- and money.
It was a simpler era when I caught late-seventies Carson monologues on my tiny dorm TV. But the game is still the same. TV networks are still in a pitched battle with rivals every day.
But with more of us splintered across a spectrum of DVRs, Netflix and Hulu, the available takers are fewer than when Johnny faced only glancing competition from the likes of Dick Cavett, Joey Bishop and Merv Griffin.
The near future of late-night seems to contain little for viewers right of center or north of 50. But in the dwindling arena of conventional broadcast TV, there is still success to be had for any show paying attention to that marketplace.