Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING A LOT OF DUDES:  Look, we're long past dismissing Jimmy Fallon as a "dime-store mimbo," and there was a lot of charming material during his Tonight Show hosting debut last night (and man,did the Top of the Rock look great at sunset), but ... (1) it was a pretty complete sausage-fest, with women serving only as cameos during the "$100 bet" bit -- I don't even think there were any jokes about female athletes during the Olympic superlatives; and (2) yes, okay, first show and all, but it was still a bit too much on the tell-not-show on how Fallon wants himself and his show to be seen as being a warm and unthreatening place. Trust your own charisma, trust that what you've already built is going to be welcoming of and enjoyed by a broader audience.

Still: if anyone can save this format, and restore The Tonight Show as the late night comedy-variety show where everyone feels comfortable (both guests and viewers), it's probably Fallon, and I hope his reign is long and enjoyable.

added: James Poniewozik disagrees with me on the second point:

At first blush, it seemed incredibly obvious. It may just have been incredibly brilliant. 
Consider the situation a new host like Fallon walks into. He’s starting a show in a time slot where millions of fans just saw a popular show, their show, a show that ran for two decades and put them to bed at night, get cancelled. (“The Tonight Show” didn’t get cancelled, sure. But “Jay Leno” did.) He has a job akin to a politician accepting his party’s nomination after a hard primary fight, or the new leader of a small conquered nation, or the CEO of a company that was just acquired. Leno said he was OK with leaving Tonight, but that doesn’t mean his fans were OK with it. Fallon’s job–well, one of many–was to make them OK with him. 
So each introduction Fallon made was a chance to frame the story, from the beginning, in a way that could make these longtime Tonight viewers–many of them older–comfortable with him, even while he hopefully brought in new ones. Leno was the host for Middle America, the jovial guy who liked cars–just like America likes cars!–the guy who made fun of politicians from all parties. Now a new, young guy was bumping him out and moving the show to New York City....


  1. Dan Suitor10:07 AM

    I know budgets aren't typically talked about with late night shows, but I was always impressed with the production values Fallon & Co wrung out of the 12:30 slot, so I'm excited to see what they can do with the (presumably) larger allotment that "The Tonight Show" gets. They're already saving a ton of money by going with Fallon over Leno, and not just on account of 22 years of raises. When Leno moved to primetime in 2009, he got a pay bump; when he moved back to late night, he kept his primetime salary. In addition, by letting Fallon stay in New York, they're getting a state tax credit projected to be worth just north of $20 million (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jimmy-fallons-tonight-show-nyc-444773).

    Now, I don't think they'll plow back all of the savings into the product, as that THR article has "The Tonight Show" generating $30 - $40 million per year, and Leno took a payCUT to $15 per year, so NBC will probably want to juice that margin as much as they can before salaries and costs creep up, but I do think that there'll be some trickle down.

  2. Genevieve10:32 AM

    Haven't watched it yet, but I thought Amy Poehler was going to be one of the guests his first night? did that not happen?

  3. Adam B.10:51 AM

    She'll be on Seth Meyers' first night.

  4. Honestly, I think Seth will be interesting to see how he adjusts. Basically, all he's done for several years now is Update, and reports indicate that he may even do the monologue from behind the desk. If he can find a way to make it work without seeming like an Update/Daily Show knockoff, it'll be fascinating.

  5. Also, given that Seth is older than Jimmy, I fully expect Seth will never host The Tonight Show. (My guess? When Lorne calls it quits, Seth becomes the new Lorne, and Late Night goes to someone younger--maybe John Mulaney?)

    The other big wildcard is what happens when Letterman hangs it up. Ferguson allegedly has an "heir to the throne" clause in his contract, but it's unclear if he wants it, and CBS might want to buy him out, especially if Colbert wants to make the jump.

  6. Adam C.11:16 AM

    Really? REALLY?

  7. Colbert over Stewart?

  8. Adam B.11:41 AM

    I still want Tina Fey or Conan O'Brien to be the Charlie Bucket to Lorne's Wonka.

  9. Adam C.11:43 AM

    I'm intrigued by the point Sepinwall and Fienberg raised on their most recent podcast regarding the disparity between the location of the show (NYC) and of the traditional A-list guests (LA), and whether Fallon's ultimate success or failure will bear any, some, or zero relationship to this. On the one hand, Fallon and NBC seem to be conceding dibs on LA-centered guests to Kimmel, Conan, and (maybe to a lesser degree) Ferguson. On the other hand, one could reasonably believe there is a critical mass of shows in NYC (Tonight, Late Show, Late Night, Daily Show and Colbert) such that, it having been built, they will come.

  10. Not to mention daytime (Today, GMA, Kelly and Michael) and SNL. NYC is already a pretty essential part of a promo junket, and will continue to be. (I'm also guessing that Fallon will travel to LA 1-2 times a year to do shows there.)

  11. Andrew12:07 PM

    Besides the late night circuit, there is also the morning show circuit that's based in NYC with Ripa/Strahan, The View, Gifford/Kotb, and the fluffy parts of Today, GMA, and whatever CBS puts on in the morning that any major entertainment publicity junket to have to send stars to NYC.

    As Dan and Alan discussed, it's that "crap, we need to fill a hole in tonights show with a guest" slot where you run into more limited options in NYC.

    But I think in this era of late night, it's the buzzy guest spots that go viral that have the most impact, and for Fallon, you can just add The Roots to anything and it makes it good.

    And for the promotion to the big show, to make a good thing even better, The Roots added a couple of the Dap Kings' horn players to the Tonight Show version of the band.

  12. Roger4:16 PM

    I really like the Conan idea, especially since it would be a graceful exit from TBS.

  13. Honestly, I wonder if Conan burned that bridge--notably, Lorne wasn't an EP on the Conan Tonight Show, and I wonder if Lorne had been involved, the outcome might've been different. (DON'T PISS OFF LORNE MICHAELS is a cornerstone of NBC's current strategy.)

  14. Adam B.5:14 PM

    Bill Carter notes: that was Joan Rivers' first Tonight Show appearance since Carson instituted the fatwa, and the 49th anniversary of her first visit.