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Tonight Show: Fallon continues to be great

Updated on February 21, 2014

Talented comedian excels on NBC's signature late night show


A quick video bio of Jimmy Fallon

Fallon's Tonight Show was a ratings hit with 11.3 million viewers on Monday and 7.4 on Tuesday. Jimmy's ratings were much larger than the 2009 premiere of Conan O'Brien (9.2 and 6.2 respectively). On hump day, 7.3 million watched Jimmy – the highest rated Wednesday Tonight Show in 10 years.

One of the TV highlights of 2014 was February 17th when a generational change occurred on The Tonight Show. That's when Jimmy Fallon became its sixth host.

I predict that in two or three years late night viewers will have all but forgotten Conan and Jay. Instead they'll be tweeting, texting and talking about how the talented and likeable Jimmy Fallon smoothly slid behind the host’s desk at The Tonight Show.

Fallon's initial TV ratings were high, proving the public is excited about Fallon. Exact numbers are shown in a text box at the right.

Finally, the Jay Leno days at The Tonight Show are over. Although a ratings star, Leno’s tenure damaged The Tonight Show brand. First there was the public battle between Jay and David Letterman, who had been handpicked by Johnny Carson to take over the weeknight talk show.

When that feud ran its course NBC executives experimented with unique scheduling and put Jay on a Tonight Show-like program at 10 pm weeknights, followed at 11:30 pm with The Tonight Show featuring Conan O’Brien. We all know how that fiasco turned out.

And as Conan will attest The Tonight Show is perhaps the toughest job on TV. The show, after all, is an institution that’s been entertaining America since 1954 when Steve Allen was host.

The pressure is all on Jimmy Fallon. Can he make the transition to the earlier hour? Can he be relevant and capture the attention of an older audience at 11:30? I say “Yes” and “Yes.” But give him a little time to feel comfortable behind the The Tonight Show desk.

Singing a Christmas song and playing children's instruments

Jimmy: Multifaceted talent

He needs a year, said Rick Ludwin, NBC’s executive in charge of Late Night. "It takes that long for everything to sort itself out, in terms of the cast, the host and what works and what doesn’t work,” Ludwin told Variety.

Over the years, each host of The Tonight Show has put his stamp on the program. During Jack Paar’s years it was more of a talk show. When Carson took over from Paar he returned comedy sketches to the mix, featuring Carson characters like Art Fern, Carnac the Magnificent and Aunt Blabby.

Fallon is a multifaceted talent. I think the public will soon see he’s much more talented than either Leno, Letterman, Conan or Jimmy Kimmel. Fallon is now my favorite late night host. I don’t get either Kimmel’s or Conan’s brand of humor. After Carson, Letterman has always been my favorite, but Dave has lost something over the years. He recycles jokes and is mildly entertaining. Sometimes he makes me laugh, but Fallon’s monologues and comedy bits (like his Thank You notes) are guaranteed to make me laugh.

Fallon and Ferrell in tight pants

Jimmy: Great impressionist

But Fallon is more than a comedian, who can ad lib spontaneously and deliver a humorous monologue each night. He’s also a great impressionist. In fact, he’s been doing impressions since he was two years old, when his parents watched him do Jimmy “You Dirty Rat” Cagney. (By high school he had perfected Jerry Seinfeld.)

In addition to being a funny standup comic, Fallon’s Tonight Show will feature some uproarious comedy skits, a specialty he honed during his Saturday Night Live years and brought with him to Late Night. Skits are something Tonight Show viewers haven't seen since Carson retired in 1992.

Many of Fallon’s Late Night bits have gone viral on YouTube, such as "All I Want For Christmas Is You" with Fallon, Mariah Carey and The Roots accompanied by classroom Instruments; Will Ferrell and Jimmy fighting over tight pants; and Fallon and Michelle Obama performing the Evolution of Mom Dancing. (These three videos are included elsewhere on this page.)

Jimmy and Mrs. Obama perform the 'Evolution of Mom Dancing'

Jimmy: Great musical talent

Fallon’s from a younger generation, which is more tech savvy. On Late Night he makes extensive use of social media. During his weekly Hashtags bit, Fallon posts questions on Twitter and asks his audience to tweet responses to such subjects as: "My Weird Relative,” "My Worst Super Bowl Party" and "How I Got Fired.” Most of them have been Twitter trending topics.

Where Fallen really trumps the other late night hosts is his musical talent. I venture to say he could have as much musically creativity as comedian and pianist Steve Allen, former Tonight Show host. (That's only if you discount the 10,000 songs Allen has composed.) Fallon is an excellent singer who has performed numerous musical parodies during Late Night. He’s musical comedy performances have been spot-on when he’s paired with such current singers as Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.

Ironically Fallon’s kindergarten photo included the caption: "Most likely to take over for David Letterman."

The move to pre-midnight will prompted some changes. Fallon has changed the length of his monologue. It grew from five minutes on Late Night to ten minutes on the new Tonight. Jimmy says he be following Jay’s advice and has a renewed emphasize on the show’s monologue, which occasionally includes videos as well as jokes.

Preparation for the transition months in advance. While his Late Night studio was renovated Fallon and staff planned for the first weeks of his new show. Jimmy knew funny bits had to be central to his brand of The Tonight Show, just like the years when Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were hosts.

Tonight Show's return to NYC puts a shine on the Big Apple

When The Tonight Show turned to a new host it will also got an old venue – 30 Rockefeller Center. The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon is broadcast from New York City, where it began in 1954 with host Steve Allen.

Johnny Carson convinced NBC executives to move the show to Los Angeles in 1972 in order to attract Hollywood movie stars to appear on his show. NYC was also suffering from economic problems and rising crime rates and the show’s move added to the malaise in the Big Apple.

With more and more TV dramas and comedies currently shooting in New York City, Gotham is where everyone wants to be.

The return to NYC after 40 years created 400 new jobs, according to NBC. The show is projected to generate more than $100 million annually in economic benefits for New York. One of the beneficiaries is expected to be area comedy clubs, as comics head east to showcase their talents for Tonight Show producers.

“I remember how devastating it was when The Tonight Show left New York, a city tourism executive told The Daily News. "It was part of our national and global branding — the city that never sleeps,” Kathryn Wylde said.

“Bringing it back is a big boost and an enhancement of the New York brand,” she added.

The show 'has to be silly'

Fallon enjoys entertaining.

“I like to see people laugh who are normally serious,” according to “Everyone looks so much better when they smile.”

Though The Tonight Show will have a younger tilt with Fallon, comedy will remain king. The show “has to be silly,” he said. The comic added his audience works too hard and deserves some laughter filled minutes before they head to bed. “We need something silly at the end of the night,” he said.

Another reason Fallon is good at his job is he really likes people and enjoys talking to them. He used to hang outside “Saturday Night Live’s” studio and chat with everyone: cast, crew and audience.

ABC's Jimmy pushed NBC's hand

NBC’s move to Fallon occurred soon after ABC shifted “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from midnight to 11:30. Thus pitting his younger, hipper show directly against two talk show veterans: Leno, whose been at Tonight for 22 years, and Letterman, whose been a late night host for a record 31 years (one year more than Carson).

Fallon told Variety he understands why NBC pushed Jay into retirement after ABC’s programing move. “The Kimmel thing sparked a lot of stuff,” he said. “So, it was like, what is NBC going to do? Should they have made the move earlier, and just moved me down earlier when Kimmel started? There’s probably an argument to be made for that. Because now Kimmel’s got a couple of laps on me, and I’ll have some catch-up time. But I’ll do it.”

Michaels sees Fallon returning 'Tonight' to the days of Johnny Carson

SNL creator Lorne Michaels, who will be the executive producer of the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, told Variety an 11:30 show is built on the relationship between the viewer and the person behind the desk. “You like the guy or you don’t,” he said.

Michaels envisions the show's switch to Fallon as a return to the days of Johnny Carson, who still looms large in late night TV. Johnny always put the guest in a good light. His ego didn’t stop him from playing straight man so his guests could shine.

“I think (Fallon) has something that’s been missing in late night for a while, which is, he is a host,” Michaels concluded. “He is not out to prove he’s smarter than the guest.” –TDowling

Quick Facts: 'The Tonight Show' throughout its 60 years on TV

Band Leader
1954 - 1957
Steve Allen
Gene Rayburn
Skitch Henderson
1957 - 1962
Jack Paar
Hugh Downs
José Melis
1962 - 1992
Johnny Carson
Ed McMahon
Doc Severinsen
1992 - 2009
Jay Leno
John Melendez
Branford Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks
2009 - 2010
Conan O'Brien
Andy Richter
Max Weinberg
2010 - 2014
Jay Leno (Part 2)
Edd Hall
Rickey Minor
2014 -
Jimmy Fallon
Steve Higgins
Quest | The Roots

© 2014 Thomas Dowling


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