The New Old Tonight Show
Jimmy Fallon is not Jay Leno.
That can mean several things, both positive and negative, but it’s the truth nonetheless. It’s unequivocally a new era in the long, esteemed (though recently fumbled) history of The Tonight Show. In an opening few minutes that appeared sincerely surreal to the newly crowned 39-year old prince of late night television, Jimmy Fallon expressed his gratitude and excitement for the
tremendous (sorry, wrong host and network) treasured opportunity of receiving the baton of the show in late night.
The Tonight Show is back in New York City as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
He thanked his parents who were in the audience (a great moment!) and recapped how, in his younger days, he would sneak off to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, first guest and so on. He then recalled how if somebody had told him that one day he would graduate high school, join SNL and then become host of The Tonight Show, he would have been shocked…he graduated high school!?
It will be that kind of humbleness (and more smiling!) that will help guide Jimmy Fallon in the early stages of his tenure as the host before he fully dives into the treacherous waters of late night comedy with its natural and inevitable rivalries and cross-networking jabbing.
The show’s opening sequence was directed by Spike Lee (how’s that for a New York introduction) with musical support by his trusty house band: The Roots. The set has a classic, old-school New York theater/lounge aesthetic with a Carson-inspired floor to ceiling curtain with a heavy focus on wood…lots of wood. Visually, it looks like a bit of an homage to the past, perhaps trying to channel respect for what this move represents for the show and the city of New York.
Jimmy Fallon seemed right at home last night (well, this morning) by engaging in a history of hip-hop dancing with his first Tonight Show guest Will Smith. The clothes, the moves and the comedic chemistry between the two were pitch perfect. Then, U2 rocked the top of 30 Rockefeller Center with an electric performance of their new hit single from their Super Bowl commercial, “Invisible.”
U2 + the top of New York City for the opening night = a magnificent beginning!
The night was also filled with several of Jimmy’s friends who humorously lost a bet that he’d become the host one day. One after the other, Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Seth Rogen, Lady Gaga, a former NYC mayor, Joan Rivers, coin prankster Stephen Colbert and many more stepped out from behind the curtain to give Jimmy Fallon a funny anti-welcome that was constantly surprising and ultimately entertaining.
Plus, an acoustic U2 performance on the new couch to close the show isn’t bad either.
Where does Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show stand at this point?
It’s far too early to tell or to judge. First, some reaction needs to be reserved until the show premieres at its quintessential time slot of 11:35 p.m. Then, we need to witness the comedic and creative energy and endurance of a 10-minute monologue five days a week…every week.
The monologue was key to Jay’s success as it was his winning first impression night in and night out for 20+ years. Let’s not forget about his comedic bits and engaging interview skills as well.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
But that was Jay. He’s America’s stand-up comic. And, as the recent 60 Minutes story revealed, Jay and his writing team worked relentlessly to fine-tune each joke and each monologue, night and day, night and day.
But alas, Jimmy Fallon is more comfortable as a masterful impressionist, singer and sketch artist (more like Johnny than Jay). His show will be the same in many ways, but also different in many ways. Emphasis on certain aspects will vary as his style will define his Tonight Show legacy. As I wrote in a previous article about Jay Leno, the move to Jimmy Fallon symbolizes a generational shift in comedy, style and personalities, and not just in late night.
This will not be the only article about Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, but instead (like last night) just the first.
Millions of Americans laughed with Jay Leno for 22 years…will these same people see Jimmy Fallon as a rising star to watch for some good laughs five nights a week?
The dynamic of returning (fans, city, style) certainly is the question for the host.
P.S. Congratulations to the real new King of Late Night: Lorne Michaels.
Only one more night left…
Posted on February 18, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged comedy, entertainment, funny, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, late night, Lorne Michaels, music, new, New York City, opening night, popular culture, premiere show, The Roots, The Tonight Show, transition, U2, Will Smith. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.