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Lorne Michaels set to rule late night TV

Updated on January 2, 2014

The creative team of Producer Lorne Michaels and multitalented Jimmy Fallon are ready to takeover and renew The Tonight Show


SNL: Behind the scenes with Dan, John, Chevy, Laraine and Gilda

Lots of stars thank Lorne Michaels for their start

Think Lorne Michaels hasn’t earned the status of ruler of late night TV? Then consider this list of comedians he’s groomed as executive producer of SNL:

  • John Belushi
  • Dan Aykroyd
  • Chevy Chase
  • Adam Sandler
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Gilda Radner
  • Chris Rock
  • Phil Hartman
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Dana Carvey
  • Tina Fey
  • Will Ferrell
  • Seth Meyers
  • Amy Poehler
  • Tracy Morgan
  • and more.

It's not David Letterman, nor one of the Jimmys. If you’re looking for the new king of late night TV, Lorne Michaels is poised to take that post.

In 2014, Michaels will be the executive producer of the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night starring Seth Meyers, along with Saturday Night Live — the unique, nocturnal comedy/rock show he created.

NBC has amazing faith in Michaels’ talent, installing him as captain of their trio of important late-night vessels.

Michaels faces tremendous challenges and entertainment opportunities when the latest versions of the Tonight Show and Late Night premiere in the spring of 2014.

It makes for some interesting late night TV viewing. Perhaps must-see TV or at least DVR worthy.

Some will argue that it’s impossible to dethrone Johnny Carson as emperor of American late night television. Until recently I would have agreed with the Johnny supporters. After all he was the host of the Tonight Show for 30 years and dominated TV ratings.

If you're focusing exclusively on late night hosts Carson's the man! Even David Letterman, whose about to break Johnny's three decade seniority record and a big Johnny Carson fan, would agree.

However, examine the entire spectrum of late night TV: weekdays and weekends, hosts and producers, I think you'll soon realize that Lorne Michaels has had a mayor impact on this lucrative niche on network TV.

Michaels is “a quintessential producer, because he knows how to find talent, he knows how to encourage talent and he knows how to let people do their thing,” SNL alum-turned-superstar Amy Poehler, told the New York Daily News.

Alec Baldwin, who stars on the Michaels production of 30 Rock, also shared his thoughts about Michaels with the New York Daily News. “That he's going to be doing the Tonight Show now is pretty far out,” Baldwin said.

“Sure he's got all these legacy names on his resume," Baldwin continued. "But it just keeps on going. Look at Jimmy Fallon, one day he was doing ‘Weekend Update’ on SNL and was a warm, likeable, funny, very charming guy. (Then) he's taking Jay Leno’s job.”

If Fallon’s Tonight and Meyers’ Late Night generate solid ratings, tweets and buzz, Michaels will have earned his well-deserved spot at the pinnacle of American late night TV.


Michaels and Fallon have produced a sit-up-and-take-notice late night show. It’s funny, different — yet somehow familiar — and hip.

Late night viewers choice: Two Jimmys and a Dave

When Fallon succeeds Leno as host of Tonight, the late night landscape will feature: Jimmy Fallon vs. David Letterman vs. Jimmy Kimmel. (Letterman kids that CBS wants him to change his name to Jimmy.)

Of the group, the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon is THE show to watch.

The Michaels-Fallon duo marries an inventive comedian, musical talent with a creative producer of late night TV. They’ve really excelled on Late Night. They’ve molded the nocturnal TV formula into a distinctive brand of comedy skits, musical parodies, star-participatory games and social media-linked bits.

It works. It works for both Millennials and Baby Boomers.

Some late night TV milestones

► The Tonight Show is America’s longest currently running, regularly scheduled entertainment program. It debuted on Sept. 27, 1954.

► Johnny Carson has served the longest as its host. He sat behind the Tonight Show desk for 30 seasons.

► David Letterman has been a late night TV host for 31 years: 11 years on NBC’s Late Night and 20 years on CBS’ Late Show. He broke Carson's longevity record in August 2013,

Moving the funny Michaels-Fallon formula to Tonight

Now, after four years entertaining away in the post-midnight slot, these huge talents take center stage when they transition to the Tonight Show, which is moving back to New York City, after Johnny Carson left New York in 1972.

NBC’s move to Fallon occurred soon after Jimmy Kimmel switched time slots from midnight to 11:30 pitting his younger, hipper show directly against two talk show veterans: Leno and Letterman. When the move was made in January, many TV insiders wondered if NBC might wait too long to promote Fallon and risk many of the sought-after younger viewers tuning to Kimmel on ABC.

A lot of factors went into NBC’s decision to switch Tonight Show hosts, including ratings and demographics. It turns out that Fallon’s audience is not too young. According to the New York Times, the median age of Fallon viewers is “a surprising 53.3. That is considerably younger than Leno’s 58.1, but it is not a vast generational difference.”

Jimmy Fallon Performs a Spot-on Parody of "Sexy" Neil Young

Fallon's humorous Thank You Notes - a bit on his show

Fallon is a major talent

Fallon is a multi-talented performer, who is comfortable tossing out jokes in a nightly monologue, playing characters in skits — reminiscent of his SNL days — or performing musical parodies. In addition to being a quick wit, Fallon is an excellent singer who's not afraid to perform comedy duets with such greats as Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. ►

Another ingredient that makes Fallon’s show special is the Grammy Award winning band, The Roots. This house band is a far cry from Doc Severinsen’s group. The Roots are involved in many musical skits, including Slow Jamming the News and Freestylin' with The Roots. In the latter bit, Fallon goes into the audience (reminiscent of Johnny Carson’s Stump the Band) and asks audience members random questions. The Roots then create a unique song about them.

The one area where Fallon is weak is his interviewing skills. In many of his interviews of Hollywood-types, he comes across as a star-struck fan tossing out easy and predictable questions. A Dave Lettermen he’s not. But while Letterman unsuccessfully attempted to Tweet live on his show, Fallon 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 doctor is weird", "My worst Super Bowl party" and "How I got fired.”

NBC is betting that Tonight Show viewers will agree with a New York Times reviewer who raved in 2011 that Fallon’s show is "the most enjoyable late-night show.” –TDowling

© 2013 Thomas Dowling


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    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 4 years ago from Minnesota

      I had no idea that Michael's was now on the show with Jimmy. I'll have to check it out. Great hub with great information. Voted up and ++++

    • TDowling profile image

      Thomas Dowling 4 years ago from Florida


      You need to get a DVR. It will provide you with that beauty sleep and still allow you to watch the late night shows.

      I'm sure there are lots of things going on behind the scenes as Michaels and Fallon prepare to transition to the Tonight Show. On Friday, Fallon let his audience in on one. They are moving to another studio across the hall while his studio, 6B, gets a Tonight Show facelift. (Studio 6B was the home of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.)


    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      I love Fallon! Even his interviewing skills, I would say are okay, as they make him real and kind of charming, even! I grew up watching SNL. So many stars. Lorne Michaels knows how to make 'em! I'm glad Fallon is moving up an hour, as I have often stayed up too late just to watch him. Now I'll never have to debate which talk show to watch. :)

    • TDowling profile image

      Thomas Dowling 4 years ago from Florida

      I totally agree with you about Fallon. I look for exciting things when he starts hosting The Tonight Show. I can't believe how talented he is. He could have made a living as singer. I've never seen anyone parody so many singers. And he nails each one!

      I can see your point about Michaels. He's stretching himself too thin, with his sit-coms, Late Night and SNL. However, I think he'll give The Tonight Show his full attention. It, and SNL, will be his legacy.

      I regularly DVR Fallon, Letterman and sometimes Leno. (Never got into Kimmel. Tried him, but I don't enjoy his goofy side-kick, his unfunny family and his man on the street bits STINK!) I've never found Leno to be funny. I've been a big fan of Letterman over the years, but his format is old and he recycles his jokes from one day or week to the next. Still the best interviewer of the bunch, though.

      I can always count on Jimmy Fallon to make me laugh and to be entertaining with fresh bits. He also seems like a genuinely nice guy. I think America will embrace him and he'll rule the 11:30-12:30 ratings!

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Fallon is an immense talent. He can carry the load. Personally, I don't think Lorne Michaels adds much to the show. He just needs to get out of the way or hope he can do a better job of renewing The Tonight Show than he has with Saturday Night Live. SNL has become flat. The cast is cookie-cutter as well. Nice article. Great Tonight Show history tidbits.