But this is a coup for Fallon, and it's a coup on a lot of different levels. Where Conan had to uproot his entire show and staff from New York to Universal Studios Hollywood in order to take that job, Jimmy is having the program return to NYC for him and is inserting the word "Starring" back into the title for the first time since Johnny Carson was ruling the roost. O'Brien must be wondering why that couldn't have happened for him, especially since Executive Producer Lorne Michaels was in charge of both Conan's and Jimmy's iterations of "Late Night with..."
If you got to see my series of posts from 2009/10: "The Proper Ranking of the Late Night TV Hosts (For Now)" Starting with David Letterman (the longest running current host of a talk show after 11pm), all the way down through the new hosts of that season, one of whom was Jimmy Fallon, you'll know that Jimmy wasn't an apparent candidate for the job of taking the reins of The Tonight Show, certainly not back then. In fact, I ranked him the lowest of ALL hosts, yes, even lower than Carson Daly!
But the truth is, with some comedy writing changes and some improvements in style, and some trial and error practice in the four years after my review, Jimmy was an extremely quick study on the job; the results bear it out. And he is doing something smart: doing what he does best, as often as possible. He has developed some pretty good talents and certainly among his most notable are his singing impressions and his musicianship, which bodes really well: Johnny Carson was an above average drummer and Steve Allen, the original host of the program, was a songwriter and pianist. There is a certain rhythm to comedy, and I'm sure having music abilities help with that.
Fallon is now about two years older than Carson was when he took the job, so the age range is about right. And he has a kind of enthusiasm that makes this really refreshing. He may not be the best at this hosting business, but he's going to have a lot of fun doing it, and that will automatically make it a bit more worth watching.
I still think Fallon is not terribly impressive when it comes to interviews. That's putting it mildly. Let's face it, Johnny Carson was really connected with his subjects and that, with his quick and brilliant comedic mind, is what made him the King of Late Night. Really, nobody has the skills of Carson when it comes to the "talk" part of the talk show, so basically all these hosts fall short in that element of the format. I don't know how badly those interview skills (or lack of) will drag down "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," but I guess we're about to start finding out.
Jimmy stated he's not going to change what he's been doing on his "Late Night" show for the new program, but I have to think that's a bit of a mistake. That's basically what Conan decided when he made the move from 12:35 up an hour. And that was even more puzzling when it came to Conan. After all, he moved all the way across the country to a city many people consider the polar opposite of where he was. He brought back Andy Richter who hadn't been a part of the show for years. And he had a state of the art studio in an amusement park. Why there weren't more attempts to do more stuff with the stuff they had didn't help Conan's version of the program at all.
Fallon is moving to a much larger studio also, but is remaining in 30 Rockefeller Plaza. He won't even have to change floors! In fact, Jimmy is going into the studio that was Johnny's home the last time the Tonight Show was in NYC. And unlike his run up to his 12:35am show, he has not leaked or shared anything about the new digs. It's all on lockdown until 5pm, when the show will tape with first guest Will Smith and musical guest, U2.
The other unstated thing is that now, NBC has back-to-back New York programs in their Late Night lineup. Seth Meyers, when he begins in a week, is also casting from 30 Rock. Somehow, that seems a little bit redundant to me. But, then again, maybe years down the road, Fallon will decide to take the show out of New York and move it to Burbank?
As I mentioned when I did the those reviews of the late night hosts in 2009, Jimmy Fallon was 7 and a half when David Letterman began hosting on NBC in 1982. Now, they're going head to head, about 6 blocks away from each other. So, let the next round of The Late Night War begin!