NBCU CEO Steve Burke: Jay Leno or Tina Fey Contractually Free to Go to CBS Late Night

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

…but he’s confident Jimmy Fallon can face anyone

NBCU CEO Steve Burke says there’s nothing contractually stopping NBC stars Jay Leno or Tina Fey from taking over David Letterman’s time slot on CBS, but he’s confident Jimmy Fallon can take on anyone.

“He is likely to be very very successful no matter who is in the same time period,” Burke said at a roundtable with reporters Monday. “If we could have had anybody in the world for 11:35… we would have picked Jimmy Fallon.”

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Burke said he believes Fey is “very happy” making movies, as well as shows for NBC. He said NBC continues to be in talks with Leno about a series of specials. NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has previously said he hopes to keep Leno in the NBC fold.

“We’re still talking to him about it,” Burke said.

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Leno and Fey have both been mentioned as popular Letterman replacements, though there’s a strong case to be made against each of them: Fey would have to compete with Fallon, her former “Weekend Update” partner on “Saturday Night Live.” Another potential issue: Fallon’s “Tonight Show” is produced by her mentor, Lorne Michaels.

Leno, meanwhile, might be hesitant to take on Fallon, whom he heartily endorsed as he stepped down from “Tonight.”

Burke said Leno’s transition of the “Tonight Show” to Fallon went as smoothly as it possibly could have.

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He said Leno told NBC he “wanted to do the best handoff we’ve ever done” and succeeded. Reminding reporters that past transitions haven’t gone so well, he added, “This handoff couldn’t have been  more graceful.”