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Fallon leads a possible late-night shuffle

Fallon is replacing Leno, so who is replacing Fallon?

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Last week NBC executives successfully toppled broadcast’s reigning late-night host. (Oddly, he was on their own network.) Now that Jay Leno is officially being replaced by Jimmy Fallon, who will take over The Tonight Show after the Winter Olympics in 2014, what does that mean for the rest of the late-night field? Leno may not be the only host leaving a gap in the schedule — David Letterman’s contract expires at the end of next year. Insiders downplay the idea of him retiring at 66, however; CBS will have a fair shot at having the No. 1 host given that Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel aren’t expected to match Leno’s numbers. ”I don’t see any reason for Dave to leave. He’s genius counterprogramming to the Jimmys,” says an insider, while a rival executive calls such optimism ”denial” and warns: ”There’s not much left in Dave.” The contract for Letterman’s lead-out, The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson, will also expire in 2014, which could give CBS a spot to try something new, but one insider points out that the network doesn’t need to groom a successor: ”When Dave decides to leave, they can reach out and get whoever they want — like Colbert or Stewart.” Jon Stewart’s contract with Comedy Central is up in 2015, but he announced last month that he’ll be taking a 12-week leave of absence from The Daily Show to direct a movie this summer (correspondent John Oliver is filling in). It’s a decision some have speculated might be A Sign: Perhaps Oliver will take over and Stewart will move on…but to what? ”Jon has no reason to move; he has enormous success and is every bit as relevant as the broadcast hosts,” one source opines, while another insists, ”He wants to do movies, he’s bored. Taking Letterman’s job would be more of the same.” Some can see Stewart’s Comedy Central partner Stephen Colbert ditching his archconservative character to embrace a broadcast show when his contract is up in 2014. So whose gig could he take? Don’t look to the ratings for the answer. Most of these guys — Leno, Colbert, Kimmel, Stewart, Letterman — are within a couple tenths of a point of one another among adults 18–49. Sources say that when everybody has roughly the same audience, networks want a host who’s cool — and that’s why Fallon gets The Tonight Show.