With Jimmy Fallon Ruling At 11:30, Letterman Plots Jay Leno Guest Coup

Jimmy Fallon is off to a flying start on the Nielsen meter for his revamped takeover of The Tonight Show. Even though he lost 4 million viewers from his debut Monday night to his second show on Tuesday, he still managed to beat not only the man NBC spurned as Tonight Show host 21 years ago, David Letterman — Jimmy Fallon topped the ratings of Letterman on CBS and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel combined.

The second edition of the Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show tallied a 5.3 rating, down from 7.1 on his debut the previous night. But Fallon’s ratings have held steady. A slight dip to 5.2 on Wednesday was followed by a bounce-back to 5.3 on Thursday helped by guests Michelle Obama and Will Ferrell who engaged in an amusing bit of tomfoolery with Jimmy Fallon, centering around the First Lady’s healthy eating initiative.

Letterman scored a 2.0, as did Kimmel, on Thursday.

But David Letterman, a wily veteran of the late-night television wars, who has been on the air continuously since 1982 — first in the 12:30 pm slot on NBC then 11 years later at 11:30 on CBS, going against Leno’s then-new Tonight Show — may have a secret plan to upend the Jimmy Fallon juggernaut, at least for a night.

Letterman, according to an exclusive report in The New York Daily News, is plotting to bring Jay Leno on to his Late Show With David Letterman as a guest.

The two onetime friends who became bitter rivals when Jay Leno maneuvered his way into the Tonight Show host’s chair in 1993, usurping a job that David Letterman believed was rightfully his, have supposedly patched things up after a 20-minute phone chat.

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Now Letterman hopes their mutually soothed feelings, combined with Leno’s reported disgruntlement over losing his Tonight Show seat to Jimmy Fallon, will be enough to get Leno into Letterman’s Ed Sullivan Theatre for what would be a headline-making reunion.

Jay Leno and David Letterman became friends early in their careers as stand-up comics. When Letterman scored his NBC Late Night With David Letterman show, he frequently provided Leno a platform for his observational and often political riffs.

But when Leno won the coveted Tonight Show seat after the retirement of 30-year host Johnny Carson in 1993, a job that was a lifelong dream of Letterman who idolized Carson and received his first big breaks on Carson’s show, the two comics had a rift that remained raw even two decades down the road.

The Jimmy Fallon ratings rally reportedly has Letterman and his staff nervous, so a Leno appearance on Letterman’s CBS show would divert the spotlight back to the late-night veteran, even if only briefly, leading to scenes like this one, from 1985: