To paraphrase an old peacenik slogan: Suppose they declared a talk show war, and nobody cared?
Those who did care, cared that in 2013, Jay Leno finally, for real this time, announced his retirement as host of The Tonight Show. No backsies.
Jimmy Fallon, who I once thought couldn't be funny if you transplanted George Carlin's brain into his head, has grown, well, funnier - enough so as to be handed the hallowed Desk Of Carson, once coveted by David Letterman and stolen from Conan O'Brien. Fallon's house-band, The Roots, will come with him.
The Keystone Pipeline that connects Saturday Night Live to every other sector of the comedy industry, splooged Seth Meyers into Fallon's old spot at 12:35 a.m.
Conan, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson, stand at the ready - and don't fire until you see the whites of their skin.
So who'll win this war? I'm not sure, but I think I know who'll lose it. Fallon will, for being at the helm when The Tonight Show sinks, along with the half-century-old late-night talk show tradition itself.
The very expression "Talk Show Wars" comes courtesy of an old colleague of mine, Bill Carter, whose 1994 book The Late Shift chronicled the jockeying and campaigning that saw Leno ace out Letterman (Johnny Carson's own personal choice) as Carson's successor. The Late Shift was a bestseller, and was made into an HBO movie.
In 2010, Carter wrote The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early And Television Went Crazy, chronicling Leno's double-cross of successor #1, Conan O'Brien.
This time around? Despite good reviews, there were remainder bin sales, and movie talk that was simply fodder for jokes.
What should really worry NBC is that Fallon, the guy who's supposed to "youth up" The Tonight Show, has a viewership whose average age is 52. That's six years younger than Leno's, but doesn't bode well for a creaking TV genre. In fact, all the hosts have cornered the market on fiftysomethings, with the exception of O'Brien on TBS (who is favoured by thirtysomethings).
Traditional network talk shows long ago lost late night to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (who, yes, do interviews, but changed the DNA of the genre from its monologue/sketch template). Young audiences are also more likely to watch shows like Robot Chicken or Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Adult Swim on the U.S. Cartoon Network or Teletoon at Night in Canada.
If there is a winner, or at least a pop cultural leader in the talk show steeplechase, it has to be Kimmel. He's played the new media game better than any of his competitors and has the viral videos to prove it. From the "I'm F---ing Matt Damon" video (with Kimmel's then-girlfriend Sarah Silverman) to a controversial video of parents telling their kids that they'd eaten all their Halloween candy, to the recent "Worst Twerk Fail EVER - Girl Catches On Fire" (which turned out to have been produced by Kimmel and passed off as real), he has proven more adept at resonating with the young'uns.
Kimmel is the only current talk show host with any impact in the water-cooler sense - a la Letterman, when he'd throw himself against a fabric wall while wearing a Velcro suit.
He's got the stuff to be the last of his breed.