It's been a long time in the making, but last night The Tonight Show finally saw its new host, Jimmy Fallon, take the reins. Last year, NBC announced that long-time host Jay Leno would be stepping down -- again -- to pass the torch to Fallon. After the sloppy mess that was the Conan O'Brien take-over/now give it back that plagued The Tonight Show during the 2009-10 season, Leno's stepping down had become something of a meta-joke. (In fact, Fallon started the evening saying that he was the host "for now.") But NBC has been hyping Fallon at the helm and the subsequent fact that the show would be moving back to New York from its previous home in California, so they really don't want another screw up on their hands.
When it was announced that Fallon would be taking over it was both surprising and not. Fallon's Late Night show started off rocky but gained momentum and fans during its five-year run. The show took over the ratings during its time slot many times over the years and the last episode, which aired February 7, had more than 6 million viewers. This is a huge number.
Fallon has done well for himself. For one reason, he's young and he's attracted a younger audience with his not always mainstream musical guests and contemporary-style jokes, but more than that, he's just really likable. He seems like the type of guy you want to have over for nachos.
That likability served him well during last night's premiere of The Tonight Show. Fallon kicked off the show with heartfelt thanks to his parents, his wife and new baby and all of the friends who supported him along the way. It was touching and a different approach than just jumping into the chuckles.
He was slightly nervous as he took to the stage to officially start the show with his first-ever monologue. I'll admit that I am not a fan of the opening monologue. I thought for a while it was because I am also not the biggest fan of Leno, but that's not it at all. It's a played out format when anyone does it - it's the worst part of the Bill Maher show and Letterman as well - and I was hoping that Fallon would ditch it. No such luck, but after last night's go at it... yeah, I still suggest he ditch it. There are just funnier ways to getting the day's current events out there. Maybe Fallon was just nervous, but he ad-libbed a bit in an attempt to get the joke going and it didn't help; I could have done without all of it.
Fallon then introduced a segment with pictures of Olympic competitors and what their yearbook prediction may have been, i.e. best looking, most likely to succeed. The segment was funny in theory, the execution not as much. It felt as if the jokes were trying hard not to be mean, but the idea behind the segment was more or less, "let's make fun of how these Olympians look." It probably should have been nastier.
Fallon then took to the desk. His first task was to point a finger at his friend who bet him $100 he would never host The Tonight Show. That "friend" was Robert De Niro, who walked on the set and threw some money down. What followed was a train of celebrities, most if not all New York-based, throwing their own losing bet down in front of Fallon. Stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady GaGa, Lindsay Lohan, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Rogan, among other big names, made cameos during the joke. It was pretty awesome.
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Fallon's opening night guest was, for some reason, Will Smith. I have no idea what Smith is pushing right now, if anything, but he sat in the guest chair loving on Fallon for ten minutes. I'm sure it's really cool to hear Will Smith gush all over you and talk about how much everyone loves you and that's why they came out to support, but it seemed to make Fallon uncomfortable, and doesn't make for a great interview. But whatever, it was very nice of Smith and obviously true as based on the list of people that came by to show support and give Fallon $100.
The musical guest was U2 and you don't get much bigger than that. They did a number on the roof of 30 Rock and then in the studio. Whether you are a fan of them or not, it's U2.
In a word, the premiere was: nice. It could have been much funnier as Fallon's Late Show had built itself into one of the funniest shows to air during the late fringe hour, but maybe it wasn't trying that hard to be. Rather the show made serious attempts to convince its audience that Fallon is the right man for the job and that you will like him, which might be necessary for Leno diehards and those out of Fallon's demographic.
I am giving the show the ultimate benefit of the doubt. I find Fallon's brand of sweetheart humor funny, it's not biting like Letterman (in his prime) nor is it sardonic/absurd like O'Brien's'; it's cute and huggable (like Fallon!) and doesn't try to use others' demise to make a joke, which is rare right now. I think this was a great move for NBC. Let's hope they don't screw it up.