NBC announced Monday it has reupped with “Last Call” host Carson Daly through 2009, but the Peacock appears no closer to filling Conan O’Brien’s 12:35 a.m. slot, which goes vacant the same year.
Daly, who recently celebrated his fifth year at the helm of “Last Call,” figures to be in the mix to replace O’Brien, who is scheduled to shift to “The Tonight Show” when Jay Leno leaves in 2009.
But NBC rarely mentions him as a candidate and signed “Saturday Night Live” vet Jimmy Fallon to a holding deal that appears to make him the lead candidate to take the helm of “Late Night” when the chair becomes available.
In a statement, NBC exec VP of latenight Rick Ludwin called Daly “a proven commodity in NBC’s successful latenight lineup.” He added that Daly and producer David Friedman have reinvented the show with comedy elements.
“I can’t help but think I am one lucky dude,” Daly said of his extension.
As part of Daly’s deal, he will continue to host NBC’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Daly has hosted “NBC’s New Year’s Eve With Carson Daly” each year since its debut in 2004.
Latenight watchers are reading the tea leaves as to what Daly’s signing means for NBC’s latenight transition in 2009.
But while NBC is carefully orchestrating the transition, it has been strangely silent on its plans for 12:35, even though Daly has made it clear he wants the timeslot.
Sources said Daly wanted a deal that would make him O’Brien’s designated heir at 12:35, but NBC declined to do so. Daly made inquiries to other networks but ended up re-signing with the Peacock anyway.
Competing networks ABC and Fox would love to be stronger competitors in what has been a two-horse race between NBC and CBS.
“Last Call” is averaging 1.4 million viewers year to date, a 7% dropoff from last year, and he is last in the ratings among network latenight hosts, though his show airs an hour later than CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” and 90 minutes later than ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Ferguson and Kimmel are averaging 1.9 million and 1.8 million viewers this year, respectively, but NBC execs point out that Daly beats them both in the 18-34 demo, even with his later air time.
ABC has invested millions to develop Kimmel over the last four years, including a street-level set at the El Capitan Entertainment Center in Hollywood, and both Kimmel and “Nightline” are up in total viewers compared with last year. Fox is experimenting on Saturday nights with “Talkshow With Spike Feresten.”
But the prospect of Leno becoming available in 2009 could shake up the established order and is the reason NBC is determined to find a role attractive enough to retain him.
Ludwin and Daly declined to comment beyond their prepared statements.