Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fallon Kicks Off His Tonight Show with Humility and Humor

Last night's premiere episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon got off to a good start. 11.3 million people watched his inaugural show, probably boosted by the Olympic viewership. Musical group The Roots and announcer Steve Higgins remained on board from the old show as Fallon's new show was broadcast from Studio 6B. The show started with an opening sequence directed by Spike Lee showing shots of The Big Apple. The Tonight Show has not been based out of New York since 1972 when Johnny Carson departed for Burbank, California. Fallon obviously knows he has some big shoes to fill, hosting such a legendary show. He acknowledged the previous hosts; Allen, Paar, Carson, Leno and O'Brien. His parents were in the audience cheering him on. He mentioned how as a kid, he begged his parents to let him stay up late to watch Johnny Carson. He had a tongue-in-cheek reference to the changing hosts as he said "I'm Jimmy Fallon and I'll be your host... for now". I don't think he takes anything for granted, and he knows the pressure is on to deliver. Will Smith joined Fallon for a funny skit about the history of hip-hop dancing. There were brief cameos by many celebrities including Robert DeNiro, Joan Rivers, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and Steven Colbert. The appearance by Joan Rivers was a big deal since she had been banned from The Tonight Show for almost 30 years. Carson banned her after finding out she was going to host a rival show on Fox in the mid-1980s. Leno had continued the ban during his 22-year tenure.

Musical guests U2 performed in a stunning setting, 70 stories high atop Rockefeller Center at sunset, in midtown Manhattan (above). Members of the Rutgers marching band drumline backed up the Irish supergroup. The performance by U2 was amazing from a technical standpoint, with sweeping shots of the musicians with the gorgeous New York skyline in the background. Later the group joined Fallon in studio for an interview and a second song.

The social media audience that Fallon has built up will be a key to his success. He has legions of Twitter followers (11.6 million on his personal page), and it is clear that he and his staff know the power of internet marketing to get people to see his comedy. This is not Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. The landscape of TV is highly fragmented and there are more choices for viewers than ever before. 11.3 million viewers would not be big for Carson, but the world has changed so much since the days of the 3 broadcast networks being the primary sources for entertainment. These days, one has to gauge success not only by broadcast television numbers, but by the show's impact in cyberspace. With the widespread use of DVRs, people are deciding when to watch the show, and many do not watch it at 11:35 pm. Also, people are sometimes watching only part of the show, not the whole thing. The bit that Fallon did with Will Smith has "gone viral" with many people watching that clip online. Just 2 days after it aired on TV, the You Tube clip of this has been viewed over 4.3 million times.

At 39 years old, Fallon can appeal to generation X, generation Y and millenials. The question is, will NBC put pressure on him to appeal to an even wider audience and tone down some of his comedy bits he did at 12:35? Leno and Letterman have been criticized for not being edgy and striving to reach mass audiences. Letterman's show at 11:35 is different from his show was at 12:35. Only time will tell with Fallon, but I think he will be just fine, bringing some energy and creativity to a storied TV franchise that has needed it for years.

The late night lineup on NBC is now controlled by one man, longtime Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. He is the producer for The Tonight Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers and SNL. So, one person is in charge of 11.5 hours per week of network TV for the first time ever.

Late night fans will want to check out my website. It covers all the late night hosts over the years. It's the ultimate database of late night television history. This site has 6 pages dedicated to the king of late night, Johnny Carson. 3 pages cover the career of David Letterman. It has information about TV pioneers like Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Dick Cavett, Tom Snyder and more. The site covers the many short lived late night shows such as those from Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase, and many more. Current talk show hosts are profiled, including Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson and more. You can access it here.
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