NBC says privately that Fallon has tried judiciously to make sure Leno was on board with the move, and that Leno has a higher regard for Fallon personally than he did for O'Brien. A few years down the line, Leno may be more ready to end his ‘‘Tonight’’ tenure than he was before.
NBC has taken pride through the years in orderly transitions — like when Brian Williams took over for Tom Brokaw, and Meredith Vieira replaced Katie Couric. It will put the machinery to work to make this one seamless, too. Or at least appear that way.
There was a rocky start. When Leno needled NBC executives about their miserable prime- time ratings this winter, it hit a nerve with NBC Entertainment President Robert Greenblatt. He sent a note telling the comic to cool it. That approach backfired when the note became public and Leno hammered his network even harder.
The first public sign of the coming transition came Monday night, when Leno and Fallon filmed a genial spoof together making fun of all the late-night rumors. It aired between their two shows.
‘‘It’s clear they are trying to stave off negative reaction,’’ said Christine Becker, an associate professor at Notre Dame University and author of the News For TV Majors blog. ‘‘I don’t know whether it’s going to be successful or not.’’
That’s because of a sense that there’s still something missing, she said.
‘‘Jay is saying really nice things, but what really is the deal?’’ Becker said. ‘‘Did Jay tell them that he wants to go? Will he go someplace else? ... NBC is struggling to play the PR game and make it work but there are so many gaps and holes that it makes it strange.’’
Associated Press Television Writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.