Skip to main content

How Twitter helped Fallon get Leno's job

By Ed Bark, Special to CNN
updated 12:12 PM EDT, Thu April 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ed Bark: Jay Leno still No. 1 in late night for NBC, but network replacing him with Jimmy Fallon
  • He says NBC says it's Fallon's time, and that may have much to do with social media
  • He says Fallon, O'Brien can deliver Twitter, other followers that Leno, Letterman can't
  • Bark: Network making it clear that's important. But can it turn social media sway into money?

Editor's note: Ed Bark, former longtime TV critic of The Dallas Morning News, blogs about TV at the website unclebarky.com.

(CNN) -- What has Jay Leno done lately for NBC in late night?

Well, even the network's official Wednesday announcement of his ouster (in spring 2014) acknowledges that "The Tonight Show" under Leno's reign continues to rank No. 1 in both total viewers and advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds. That's against ABC's recently relocated "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" as well as CBS' longstanding "Late Show with David Letterman," according to Nielsen Media Research.

Nonetheless, NBC will be pushing him out for a second time, with "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon taking over "in conjunction" with the network's coverage of next year's Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia (scheduled to run from February 7-23).

Ed Bark
Ed Bark

NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke says in a statement that "we are purposefully making this change when Jay is No. 1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson (in 1992) when he was No. 1. Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time."

Carson retired under his own power, though, surprising NBC in the process. Leno is unwillingly walking the plank, as he's made clear in recent monologues with barbed jokes at NBC's expense.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



But if this indeed is Fallon's time, it may be in large part because we live in very different times. The Internet-driven "social media" didn't exist during Carson's storied 30-year reign. He simply had to deliver a conventional TV audience. He did so year after year against a variety of competitors in a much less crowded late-night field.

Fallon averages 1.7 million viewers compared to 3.5 million viewers for Leno, according to the NBC release. He also draws fewer 18-to-49-year-olds, although a later time slot certainly is a factor in both cases.

But Fallon, as well as Kimmel and TBS' late night standard-bearer, Conan O'Brien, all excel in a social media arena that remains of little if any interest to either Leno or Letterman. Networks increasingly see this as a key ingredient in times when conventional TV ratings continue to sag amid myriad channel choices.

Why is NBC dumping Jay Leno?
Hear Leno, Fallon belt out duet
Why is NBC dumping Jay Leno?
Conan: Fallon will do great on 'Tonight'

Let's look at their respective number of Twitter followers. As of this writing, Fallon's personal page has 8.33 million and O'Brien is right behind with 8.09 million. Kimmel weighs in with 2.42 million followers, meaning he still has some work to do on this front.

But Leno, via the official Tonight Show site, has just 525,000 followers. And Letterman's Late Show page has 234,000 followers. The host doesn't have a personal Twitter page, although some are tweeting in his name and using his picture, according to a Late Show representative.

Fallon and Kimmel also boast a number of "viral videos" with star supporting players ranging from first lady Michelle Obama to actor Ben Affleck. Fallon's recent "Evolution of Mom Dancing" performance with Obama became an immediate YouTube sensation that to date has more than 15 million views.

In announcing Fallon's promotion, NBC noted that his show "has continued to garner attention for its viral videos," with the host also winning an Emmy in the "Interactive Media Category" after being named 2009's "Webby Person of the Year."

This week's TBS press release on extending "Conan" through November 2015 touches only briefly on O'Brien's conventional Nielsen ratings performance among young adults. But the network says a mouthful about his social media prowess. It bears repeating because it's so illustrative of the value networks place on out-of-the-box moxie.

O'Brien's show "leads the late-night crowd when it comes to online activity and engagement," says TBS, "with the show and its host drawing more than 8.3 million followers on Twitter, 2 million fans on Facebook, 2 million unique users each month on TeamCoco.com and 15 million video views each month on TeamCoco.com and YouTube." Not only that, but the Team Coco app won the 2012 Emmy for "Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Enhancement."

The great unknown, at least from a financial standpoint, is whether all these accolades and millions of off-network fans will lead to appreciable sums of money in the bank.

We'll likely never know with Leno and Letterman, though. Their skill sets basically begin and end with putting on a show each night. In the now vast multimedia universe, that may be akin to sending a message via telegraph instead of e-mail.

After all, these really aren't just the late-night wars anymore. They're the anytime, anywhere wars, with Fallon, Kimmel and O'Brien arming themselves to the hilt.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Bark.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT