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Broadway Has High Hopes for ‘Tonight Show’ Handoff

Theater publicists see big promo potential in NBC show's return to Gotham with Rialto-friendly host

When NBC confirmed “The Tonight Show” host changeover in 2014, plus the move from Los Angeles to New York, Broadway ears perked up.

For legit publicists, the cross-country move could be a boon: They get the opportunity to promote Main Stem shows on latenight’s top yakker (for now, at least), led by Jimmy Fallon, who’s been notably open to Broadway bookings in the past.

“The minute we heard the news, it made Fallon the new go-to place to try to take one of our shows,” said one veteran press agent.

Just how much Broadway will figure in to the new “Tonight Show” is, of course, a matter of pure speculation — it’s early in the game yet to rev up format shifts. The Fallon camp at NBC had no comment about plans for legit bookings.

Still, Fallon’s track record with Broadway is enough to make hopeful flacks swoon. “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” hosted a Broadway Week series of performance segs from titles including “Memphis,” “Promises, Promises” and “American Idiot” in 2010 and “Porgy and Bess,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Anything Goes” in 2012.  Scarlett Johansson snagged a spot on the couch in February to talk about her stint in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

While it’s far from clear just how much of a revamp the new “Tonight” will get, it seems distinctly possible the show could opt to play up its newfound Gotham personality. And nothing says New York like Broadway, especially for out-of-towners — just take a look at the spike in Main Stem box office during prime tourism weeks.

To be fair, CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” also has its share of Rialto bookings. Last month, Letterman interviewed Emilia Clarke, the “Game of Thrones” thesp now toplining the Broadway revival of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In 2011 there was perf from “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.” But unlike Letterman, Fallon has more than once professed he’s a theater fan.

Flacks and marketers all acknowledge that an appearance on a late show won’t, in general, move the needle on sales in the same way a seg on one of the morning shows . Whereas latenight (especially the 12:30 slot currently occupied by Fallon) caters to younger viewers, the demo most likely to turn on “Today,” “The View” or “Good Morning America” is the older, femme-skewing aud that’s also Broadway’s prime ticket-buying engine.

Whether on-air performances will have greater sales influence once Fallon’s show shifts an hour earlier, and under the title that is currently the highest-rated latenight skein, remains to be seen. Still, many legiters agree a booking on a latenight show confers a cool-factor prestige that a morning show stint will not. That’s something that can be especially useful for productions such as “Fela!,” the Afrobeat tuner that underscored its hip, art-house appeal with an appearance on “Late Night” in 2010.

Just how the relationship between Broadway and the new “Tonight Show” will shake out is a question that won’t be answered until next year at the earliest. But in the meantime, legiters hold out hope.

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