Jay Leno on Fox? Wouldn't that be fun

Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno. (Reuters file photos)

Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno. (Reuters file photos)

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:34 PM ET

PASADENA, Calif. - Ssshhh. It's late night. Don't want to upset anyone.

On the cusp of a scheduled shakeup in the landscape of late-night talk shows, everyone is trying to be so damn nice. Makes me miss the old, bitter days.

Jimmy Fallon insists Jay Leno is a great guy. Leno isn't saying much of anything, but he doesn't seem to be resisting this time. Seth Meyers says Fallon is a buddy. Everyone is paying homage to Johnny Carson. Even the awkward Conan O'Brien era is being remembered fondly.

Which tells me this: NBC still is so stung by its previous late-night handover disasters that it will do anything to ensure it doesn't happen again.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will debut on Feb. 17. Fallon's first guests will be Will Smith and U2.

Fallon is moving The Tonight Show back to its original New York home after decades in Los Angeles. And a side note, for the first week Fallon's Tonight Show will air a half-hour later than usual, due to NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics.

Replacing Fallon on his old show is Seth Meyers, a fellow alumnus of Saturday Night Live. Late Night With Seth Meyers will debut on Feb. 24, and the first guest will be Amy Poehler. Meyers' last appearance as an anchor on SNL's Weekend Update will be on Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, when Leno leaves The Tonight Show on Feb. 6, his final guests will be Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks. Fallon will appear with Leno for a passing of the baton on The Tonight Show on Feb. 3.

So polite. It wasn't always this way.

Both Leno and David Letterman wanted The Tonight Show when Carson left in the early 1990s, but Leno got it, and a hurt and furious Letterman moved to CBS, where he remains today. That set up a decades-long rivalry between Leno and Letterman, which sporadically has been nasty (almost always on Letterman's part).

There was more acute discomfort in 2009, when Leno was forced to vacate The Tonight Show for O'Brien. But then NBC gave Leno a show at 10 p.m., essentially cutting off O'Brien's legs. O'Brien eventually was jettisoned and Leno squirmed back into The Tonight Show chair March 1, 2010.

Those two very public wars were so powerful, the “let's avoid controversy” disease even has infected CBS. Earlier this week, honcho Nina Tassler was asked about Letterman. Repeating her network's mantra, Tassler simply said Letterman is "at the top of his game.” Not true, but CBS can't risk pissing off Letterman with even a hint of post-Letterman planning, because Dave can be destructive when he's angry.

The late-night talk shows are nothing but clip services now anyway. As ABC's Jimmy Kimmel said recently in a greeting for TV critics, “You probably know me from YouTube.”

But it still would be fun if Leno re-entered the fray on another network, such as Fox. Kimmel hates Leno. O'Brien, who is at TBS, hates Leno. It might wake up Letterman. And even Fallon seemed slightly defensive the other day when Leno's name came up.

Hey, Fallon and Meyers may be great in their new roles. But late-night TV always is more funny and fiery when the family is feuding.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca


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