Love her or hate her, Chelsea Handler is already one of the most bankable female entertainers in Hollywood right now.
She’s the host of E! late-night success “Chelsea Lately.”
She’s a New York Times bestselling author (twice-over, now).
She’s got a new movie role in the works.
And she’s the guiding hand behind a second E! show (“After Lately”) and a network pilot that’s looking awfully likely to get picked up (a sitcom based on her book “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea”).
Handler — whose signature saucy, unrelenting comedy has hit a lucrative nerve with audiences — may very well be the first woman to take over a late night network show, now that she’s proved herself a consistently sound investment.
And down the line, it may be “The Tonight Show” that wants to buy in. Here’s how the TV institution could end up in Handler’s grasp:
Jay Leno may have recouped “The Tonight Show” from Conan O’Brien, but his return has felt deflated, and his ratings (though they’ve recovered from early limping) aren’t what they used to be. No matter when he actually leaves, the stage already feels set for his stepping down.
Do we think NBC, still smarting with embarrassment over history’s most famous late-night debacle, would take a massive risk and give Handler a “Tonight Show” whirl? No.
But — especially now that she’s getting cozy with Peacock execs via her pilot — Handler’s name will likely be thrown into the programming musical chairs-mix whenever Leno does depart.
If Jimmy Fallon takes over, Handler could move into his “Late Night” spot — a slot that Fallon has pumped up via his innovative, positive, web-friendly show. (Speaking of “positive,” he and the sour-funny Handler could make good foils for each other.)
Or — if they want to lock down Handler without waiting for Leno to go — NBC could cancel Carson Daly‘s low-profile “Last Call” to make room for her.
That move might cost them a little more, since Daly’s show costs next to nothing to make — and Handler would likely require some serious financial motivation to move into the wee hours of the morning.
But she’d have a good long-term reason to take the job, even if it sets her back to 1:30 a.m.
It still puts her in line for the “Tonight Show” throne. (Daly is not in this line, but that’s because his music-centric show is a totally different format.)
At that point, all Handler has to do is wait — for people to change jobs, for female-centric primetime comedy to bolster the push for a late-night lady — and keep up her winning streak.
In the meantime, if you want to know how well Handler stacks up against Leno, watch her recent appearance on his show — and judge for yourself who’s the sharper comedian.
Leno seems a tad nervous, no? Maybe he’d feel more comfortable if they switched chairs.