Jay Leno said yesterday it's all but official: Branford Marsalis will succeed Doc Severinsen as bandleader on "The Tonight Show."
Leno, who takes over for Johnny Carson in May, told AP Network News he picked Marsalis himself for the coveted spot.
"My choice is Branford Marsalis," said the comedian.
He said the saxophonist "has an incredible knowledge of music. He's worked with everybody from Sting to classical to jazz. He can play anything."
"I think he'll draw other excellent musicians to the program," Leno said.
He added that Marsalis "probably" will compose a new theme for the show.
"We're just going through the motions" now of signing a contract, said Leno. It "looks like it'll happen once they dot the i's and all that stuff."
Leno was in Washington promoting a book and speaking at the National Press Club.
* ABC's "Good Morning America" remains the highest-rated of the network's morning shows, even though its ratings slipped in November.
In November, its "sweeps" ratings were down 8 percent from last year and those of its NBC and CBS rivals were up.
"Good Morning America" won the Oct. 31-Nov. 27 sweeps with a 4.4 ratings average, Nielsen estimates showed.
NBC's "Today," recovering from its much-publicized woes of last year, showed a marked audience increase, averaging a 4.0 rating. Its sweeps ratings -- local stations use the data to set their advertising rates -- were up 18 percent from November 1990.
"CBS This Morning" had a 2.7 rating, up 8 percent from November 1990.
Each ratings point represents 921,000 homes.
* ABC will switch time periods on four shows next month and place "MacGyver" and "Pros & Cons" on hiatus, the network equivalent of the disabled list.
"MacGyver," a 6-year-old ABC mainstay that also is seen in syndication, will leave the prime-time schedule Dec. 30, network entertainment president Bob Iger said yesterday. The series finale will be broadcast Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.
"Pros & Cons," the revamped version of last season's "Gabriel's Fire," starring James Earl Jones, will be yanked after its Jan. 2 episode. The show, with new co-star Richard Crenna, will return in the spring, Iger said.
On Jan. 3, "Baby Talk" and "Perfect Strangers" will switch time periods, with "Baby Talk" being seen at 9 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m. On Jan. 6, "F.B.I.: The Untold Stories" and "American Detective" will move to Mondays, airing at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. respectively.
Repeats of two-hour "Columbo" episodes starring Peter Falk will air at 8 p.m. beginning Jan. 9.
* He's the pushy, north woods know-it-all, the gruffest of gourmets -- and a bizarre Alaskan hermit with a major attitude.
He is, of course, cranky Adam, regular guest wild man on "Northern Exposure."
And this surreal wilderness eccentric is exactly the sort of character that can be an actor's dreamy, idyllic role. "It's one of the nicest things that's ever happened to me," says Adam Arkin, the actor who portrays Adam with such prickly wit.
In fact, the reason the offbeat role is so sublime is that "Northern Exposure" executive producers Joshua Brand and John Falsey created it just for Arkin, 35, who is the son of actor Alan Arkin. The three had worked together on Brand and Falsey's "A Year in the Life," an excellent, short-lived NBC drama series about a multigenerational Seattle family.
"We'd had a really good experience on that show," Arkin said. "And there's the same sort of feeling on 'Northern Exposure.' There's a real sense of respect and collaboration."
Plus, being a guest star means career flexibility.
"I feel like it's one of the best jobs in TV," said Arkin, who also portrayed Dana Delany's husband on the final season of "China Beach" and appeared with William Hurt in "The Doctor" last summer. "They only call me up there when they're going to use me. So I can pursue other things."
One of those other things arrives tomorrow night when Arkin makes a guest appearance on "Nurses," the NBC sitcom set in a Miami hospital. His character has AIDS and is an old college boyfriend of Julie (Mary Jo Keenen).
Though Arkin initially had some misgivings about dealing with such a serious subject on a situation comedy, he said he played the role "as simply and as realistically" as he could. "I think it's going to be a very good episode."
There's also more of Adam in Arkin's future.
He's scheduled for several additional "Northern Exposure" appearances this season.
Adam the raging Alaskan gourmet and Adam the Arkin do share a certain culinary enthusiasm. "I like my fresh herbs and I'm fairly talented in the kitchen," Arkin said. "But I'm not the dilettante that Adam is."