If you’ve followed my blog regularly over the last near year and a half, you may have noticed that I’ve got quite a keen interest in the “late night wars”. Recently, I wrote a post speculating about who may be in line to replace David Letterman on CBS when the day comes. You can read that here:
In the past week, Jimmy Fallon has taken over “The Tonight Show” following Jay Leno’s second retirement from the program. Fallon has moved into the role without the controversy that involved Conan O’Brien’s brief ascension to hosting duties a few years back. Of course, it was the Conan fiasco that allowed Jimmy to take over “Late Night” five years ago.
Truth be told, when Fallon was announced as host of that program – my reaction wasn’t all that positive. While I admired a good deal of his work on “SNL”, I didn’t consider myself a big fan of his. I had my serious doubts as to whether he’d be a decent fit for the late night talk show format.
Well, folks, I was wrong. Very wrong. As evidenced by his tenure on “Late Night” and his first week hosting “Tonight” – Fallon has mastered the art form. What’s even more astonishing is he’s done it in a way that seems to appeal to the widest audience possible. He has started out of the gate at #1 beating Letterman and Kimmel and I’ll predict that crown will not be relinquished.
Why is Fallon so good? There are several reasons, as I see it. He’s a master impressionist and his sketches playing musical artists are genius… Google Fallon-Jim Morrison-Reading Rainbow if you don’t believe me (or watch it in the link I provided below).
He has an easy rapport with his guests. Leno came off (to me) as robotic during celebrity interviews. Letterman is much better, but sometimes he appears disinterested when the new starlet is plugging her latest mediocre project. Frankly, Dave probably is disinterested. Jimmy succeeds at actually seeming genuinely interested with his guests.
Fallon’s skits (whether musical or playing around with Justin Timberlake, his best guest) have become the stuff of YouTube legend. More than anyone, he has honed the art of web based comedy gold that is watched and re-watched over and over.
Most of all, it’s Fallon’s enthusiasm that shines through. This is kind of harder to explain. Every time I watch him, I come away with the notion that Jimmy is extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities given to him. He seems to love hosting the show. While Dave Letterman has earned his reputation as a somewhat grumpy curmudgeon – Jimmy Fallon is almost always positive.
Don’t get me wrong – I firmly believe Letterman is a genius. And his 30 years of work has influenced comedy more than anyone else – from Stewart to Conan to Colbert to Kimmel and so on. While Dave’s show can still be great – I must admit that there’s a feeling of autopilot from time to time.
Over on ABC, Jimmy Kimmel has carved a nice niche for himself. His show has the loosest feel of them all, he’s a solid interviewer, and many of the comedy pieces score.
Nowadays, though, Fallon’s getting it done the best. And I never would have expected that. I fall into the category of thought that Leno more or less botched his tenure as host of “Tonight”. Jay seemed to try way too hard to appeal to the widest audience possible and what we were left with was a show that usually felt empty and bland and too middle of the road. And I must admit that the whole “Nice Guy Jay” routine felt forced to me, especially when knowing this is the same man who hid in a closet at NBC to spy on his bosses discussions on him and Letterman.
Ironically, Jimmy is in the similar position as most accessible to viewers compared to his rivals. With Jimmy – it doesn’t feel forced. It feels natural. That’s because Fallon is a natural. And for the first time in 22 years, I’m left with the feeling that someone is hosting “The Tonight Show” who is truly an heir to the throne that Johnny perfected.