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Jimmy Fallon And Late-Night In The Digital Age

Jimmy Fallon takes over at “The Tonight Show.” We’ll look at the new era and new challenges of late night TV.

Jimmy Fallon appears during his "The Tonight Show" debut on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in New York. Fallon departed from the network's “Late Night” on Feb. 7, 2014, after five years as host, and is now the host of “The Tonight Show,” replacing Jay Leno after 22 years. (AP)

Jimmy Fallon appears during his “The Tonight Show” debut on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in New York. Fallon departed from the network’s “Late Night” on Feb. 7, 2014, after five years as host, and is now the host of “The Tonight Show,” replacing Jay Leno after 22 years. (AP)

Big turnover in late-night TV land this week.  Jimmy Fallon stepping in.  Jay Leno stepping out.  And a whole lot of hullabaloo over the hand-off.  At one level, it’s who cares?  We fill our screens with so many things and people and games and tweets today, at all hours of the day and night.  Does it matter who or what comes on at 11:30 anymore?  On the other hand, any show that gathers a modest quorum of Americans these days is interesting because it’s rare.  And late- night TV comes with a lot of history.  This hour On Point:  late-night TV now, Jimmy Fallon and beyond.

– Tom Ashbrook


Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

Meredith Blake, entertainment writer for the Los Angeles Times. (@MeredithBlake)

From Tom’s Reading List

Los Angeles Times: Jimmy Fallon powers ‘Tonight Show’ debut with stars like Tina Fey, U2 — “History loomed large throughout the broadcast, which opened with a sequence directed by Spike Lee featuring Fallon at famous New York landmarks. The program was taped at the fully refurbished Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a sophisticated space outfitted with high ceilings, amber-colored wood paneling and a pale blue couch.

New York: Last Night With Jimmy Fallon: Into the Wee Hours With the Heir to TV’s Grandest Franchise — “Ever since he dropped on to our comedy doorstep, a 24-year-old on Saturday Night Live who couldn’t help but crack up in sketches and yet somehow managed to make breaking character the funniest part of the joke, people have talked a lot about Jimmy Fallon’s earnestness—his unmistakable delight in doing what he’s doing. But it might be his sketchiness, if you will, that really sets him apart. Unlike the other hosts he’ll soon be competing against at 11:35 p.m., when he takes over Jay Leno’s job as host of The Tonight Show on February 17—David Letterman on CBS, a fast-ascending Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, and the niche dual-snark whammy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central—Fallon has spent every week for six years putting on a chaotic live variety show where his own success hinged on persuading Holly­wood’s most famous stars to go down the rabbit hole with him.”

Slate: I Actually Feel Bad For Jay Leno — “Billy Crystal, who had been the first guest on Leno’s Tonight Show, was also his last. Crystal took a trip down memory lane when he arrived, doing his own monologue cataloguing Leno’s best jokes, which is how Lorena Bobbitt got a mention on national television in 2014. Than he and Jay sat down and reminisced about knowing each other in the ’70s, mentioning many people even less fresh than Lorena Bobbitt. On his last show, Leno had on exactly who he wanted—and he wanted Crystal and, also, Garth Brooks. For long stretches of the show it was impossible to tell what year it was.”

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  • X-Christian

    It has been a long slow dive.

    *Jack Paar* – funny, smart, great interviewer, always cared whether his guests had something to say or add. The guests were always talented and valued highly for it.

    *Johnny Carson* great interviewer, cool and witty and seemed to care whether his guests had something to say.

    *Letterman* very good, fast wit – he occasionally cares about a guest’s interests. He’s tired though.

    *Leno* was a terrible interviewer – seemed to have no cares, no interests and no wit. Boring.

    *Conan* seems to care only slightly more than Leno. Few interests.

    *Jimmy Fallon* – DOES NOT CARE whether anyone has anything interesting to say. He has no insight and no wit. And interesting things are not said on his show.

    Colbert and Stewart care the most (and are the best). They have carried on the night-time talk show energy from David Letterman while removing the variety show aspect.

    The Tonight Show is over. The era of the late night variety show passed away a long time ago.

    • brettearle

      Your entire summary needs to be thrown out the window [even if it is somewhat well-envisioned].


      You left out the greatest of them ALL.

      [Maybe He's out of your league.]

      But, too, your inclusions of Colbert and Stewart are, quite simply: Bizarre.

      Comparing those two to Paar or Carson is like comparing a rain drop to a Typhoon.

      Currently Seth Myers is the Future–along with Fallon.

    • brettearle

      Apparently, you aren’t sure, whom the greatest of them all is?

  • brettearle

    Fallon’s talent surpasses Leno. The network made the right decision.

    • X-Christian

      Fallon is very talented. He’s a great impersonator and a great improviser.
      But Fallon hates talking to people – he doesn’t even know how to do it.
      And that is a problem for a TALK SHOW.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Same ‘ol late night entertainment with the same slate of over-exposed guests: none of whom with anything new to say. The Tonight Show really died with Johnny Carson – in the late ’60s.

    Fallon is talented but the format of these shows is trite, tired, and past ready for the bone yard.

  • adks12020

    I’ve never understood the appeal of the major network late night shows. They are rarely funny or interesting and I don’t care what celebrities do with their spare time. Sure, I like tv, movies and music but I couldn’t care less about the personal lives of the people that make them. The only time I watch any of them is if they have a musical guest I like (very infrequently) and even then I don’t tune in until the end.

    I do watch Daily Show and Colbert but they actually have something to say about important issues. That, and the fact that they often have interesting guests that also have important things to say, makes them much more enjoyable to watch….and oh yeah, they are both very funny.

  • Yar

    NBC is actually spending money on the show, after the Conan O’Brien bust, they knew that they had to rebuild the show.
    Are they willing to keep up the investment?

  • John_in_VT

    Watching Jimmy reminds me of the review of the early Letterman show “It’s what would happen if you gave a 13 year-old a TV show and told him to do what he wanted.”

    • geraldfnord

      I never read that review; instead of ’13-year-old’ I said ‘bunch of hyper-intelligent chimps’ (and meant it as a compliment).

      Gloria von Thurn und Taxis!

  • geraldfnord

    Note: I only care about the comedy and, occasionally, the music. Guests are generally selling something, and I automatically turn off interest in anyone selling; I was largely raised by a salesman, saw him at work often, and it seems to have vaccinated me against it—guests are good when they are the host’s co-conspirators against the form.

    Letterman is nowhere near as innovative as he was, but he’s the master of his worn groove, and there’s something to be said for that. O’Brien still is like the younger Letterman, though he’s no longer as high-wire as he used to be—enough money to support your great-grandkids in style can do that, bug it’s probably more a matter of feeling otherwise comfortable. Kimmel has good bad attitude, but his delivery is iffy…’Timing!!!’

    I’ve never found Fallon or Meyers funny in any but a slightly-rebellious-but-still-really-a-good-kid way; they don’t project getting the joke implicit in the stupidity of the whole enterprise as Letterman does and in which Ferguson revels in his aggressive deconstruction of a chat show. I don’t see Fallon too liable in his receiving stolen goods—it’s a bad old world, and many a respectable fortune has been founded thereby, as well as the territory of any nation. Both are better than Leno’s aggressively unfunny schtick and repellent persona—no judgement on the man for the persona, though lots on him for being a stand-up(-and-knife-your-comrade) guy.

    I never found Arsenio Hall funny, except at the beginning of “Amazon Women on the Moon”. Graham Norton is a great interviewer when he tries.

    John Stewart is the return of the New York “Post” before Murdoch when it was a leftish-but-demotic paper with serialised books and the best comics; Colbert is Bugs Bunny, a world-champion I.R.L. Troll for God.

  • John_in_VT

    As someone pointed out below don’t forget Craig Ferguson who is still running the ‘anti-talk show’ talk show.

  • geraldfnord

    And what about Eric André (and Hannibal Buress)?

  • ianway

    I’m not a late night fan, but I’ve been watching the roll out out of curiosity. The SNL-like skits are decent, but the personality of the rest of the show I find extremely strained. The show’s childishly giddy sense of its own hipness is really really annoying. Fallon is a talented comedian, but not a good stand-up or interviewer. But I think our obsession with such triviality, alongside the increasingly invisible backdrop of a world that’s coming apart at the seams, is symptomatic of a deep sickness.

  • John_Hamilton

    A couple of things not mentioned are that most people have to get up in the morning to go to work, so they don’t stay up late. Another is that a goodly percentage of people don’t subscribe to cable or dish, and watch TV with a converter box. They are limited to over-the-air stations – the networks, PBS, a few old show rerun stations. I would rather watch reruns of Barney Miller, WKRP in Cincinatti and Wonder Woman than a lot of new shows, especially over-the-top grisly crime shows.

    Jimmy Fallon will probably have the highest ratings of the late-night shows because of his skits and his great band, the Roots. He’s a little too rapid-fire for an older crowd, but likely will outlast most of his competition.

    • Maureen Roy

      hulu dot com…

  • levrier

    I have been a late night show addict since I was one of those kids who sneeked out of my room to watch Steve Allen and Jack Paar. I have been tired all my life! This week was heaven: Conan 11-11:30, then Dave 11:30-12, and Jimmy 12-1 am. Of course, earlier every night, I watch Colbert and Stewart. This is how I have always been able to keep up with popular culture, regardless of my age.

    • Isernia

      In the Golden Age of television, I too watched Paar and Steve Allen as a teen-ager…at least the monologue, and then I would get sleepy and go to bed. Now in my mid 70′s, the same scenario, but in the intervening years, I watched nothing…work and family responsibilities meant early rising eliminating TV entirely…and I am no worse off for that. I’ll get my popular culture from grandkids, not the boob tube.

  • sickofthechit

    Jon Stewart rules my Late night world, but he owes me an apology for insulting me on his show one night when he was interviewing an author from my home town. I’ve never even met the guy! My “bucket list” includes being on his show one time and at some point demanding an apology for the insult. I’ve just got to figure out something to do that will get me on his show before it is to late….

    Colbert is a close second. Man, he is scary uber smart! I’d loike to see him on Jeopardy.

    Charles A. Bowsher

    P.S. (For great interviews see Jon Stewart and Colbert. One always (almost) reads the book, the other is proud he has not. It is hilarious.)cab

  • _OnlySonja_

    Let us not forget the night tele game changer #daveChapelle. He had a tremendous effect on the way we late nite TV. Talk about #edge!

  • geraldfnord

    On YouTube, “Getting Doug with High” is interesting, but often depressing… A-list talent generally are too afeaid to show up.

  • _OnlySonja_

    Late night has been more of a guilty pleasure. Not necessarily masculine, but almost…naughty. Ladies weren’t overtly #edgy until Chelsea. Even openly gay Rosie and Ellen are still quite safe. But the men of late night have always been. A. Bit. Naughty.

  • X-Christian

    He’s talented but the talk is always dull and soulless.

  • nj_v2

    Interesting that, as i heard it, neither Garry Shandling nor Craig Kilborn were mentioned.

  • RonShirtz

    I liked when Jimmy hosted Michelle Obama, and where she went on about how young people desperately need the National healthcare because, in her in sage opinion, they are all “knuckeheads” who cut themselves with knives and dance on bar stools.

    It’s nice to hear her be honest about the contempt she holds for the young citizens of this nation.

    • anamaria23

      Lighten up. It was a 30 second segment, hardly enough to send you deep down in the victim poor me whine hole. “the contempt she holds for the young citizens of this nation”!!!!
      Good grief! Grow up.

      • brettearle


        Yet another example of the Right’s pathetic pettiness.

        • RonShirtz

          Yeah, except if a Conservative said what she said, you would be all over it.

          • brettearle

            Are you trying to deflect responsibility, for your comment, by falsely suggesting that you’re Liberal?

            Or, are you cracking an ironic joke?

          • HonestDebate1

            That’s “what she said”.

        • truegangsteroflove

          The NPR radio show “On The Media” did a segment one time where they tracked a guy who writes snark on the Internet. It was completely fake, something akin to performance art. They lie, call names, make up facts, say anything to get people riled up. The mistake people make is taking them at face value, calling them “the right,” when there is no “the” there at all.

          • brettearle

            Anyone who pollutes a Forum with jaded propaganda, for the sake of self-gratification–regardless of true ideology–is indeed, carrying the position papers for whom he is representing for the moment.

            Such Mercenaries are just as guilty of being from the Hard Right, as the Hard Right itself–for the time that they are perpetrating their Fraud.

        • HonestDebate1

          And you don’t think suggesting that a 25 year old still needs to be sucking on his parents teets for insurance is pathetic? As Mr. Shirtz points out we have younger men and women defending our nation.

          • anamaria23

            What is pathetic is that a 25 year old
            should NEED to do as you suggest. Only in the US. In no other first world country would such an accusation as you make be an issue. Two of my sons, working their way through college while working part time, went for years without health insurance.

          • HonestDebate1

            You could have kept them on your policy and paid for it. Now it’s mandated and everybody pays for it. The young more so. It’s a raw deal.

            I strongly disagree with the FLOTUS and her notion that government must act on behalf of the knuckleheads who are incapable of making their own decisions.

          • anamaria23

            You mean the decision to forego health care in order to advance oneself?
            The mandate you speak of was a Republican idea included in the ACA by John McCain, I believe.

          • HonestDebate1

            Yes, that’s a decision many make. It is also the reason so many young people are not signing up. The fine is scheduled to rise until they will have no choice,

            I don’t care whose idea it was to let adults be treated as children.

          • anamaria23

            Let us let it be.
            I do like Jimmy Fallon on the rare occasion I watch Late night TV.

          • brettearle

            You figure out a way to reduce the ungodly cost of Tuition.

            The high price of Tuition is both indirectly and directly linked to the 26-year-old cutoff age.

            It’s a disgrace that young men and women have to be saddled with such debt.

            [That was one of the primary reasons for the genesis of Occupy...]

            Only Med students can eventually get out of it successfully–before they have to start taking Flomax and Estrogen-Replacement, respectively.

            All others are now nearly indentured servants for Life.

            No wonder many have gone back to their original home to live.

          • HonestDebate1

            No one is forced to be saddled with college debt but they are forced to buy insurance.

          • brettearle

            I was linking up the 26 year old cut-off age for ACA with the High Tuition debt:

            the part of the ACA that allows coverage, for young men and women, up to the age of 26, with their parents’ insurance.

            I was not talking about the aspect of ASA that has to do with legal obligation.

            If you go back to my above comment, you will see that I am clearly referring to the Tuition issue and the cut-off age–and how that connects to non-obligatory
            ACA coverage.

            But, as is so typical of you–and contrary to your Title–you change the debate or obfuscate the point when it suits you.

            Nevertheless, God sometimes does provide for small Miracles–and you might very well, some day, see your own overt and subtle manipulations.

      • RonShirtz

        I had a 21 year old son served 15 months in Iraq, carrying a M4 and providing escort duty for VIP’s on roads that potentially could have IED’s.

        He and his fellow soldiers were and are not “Knuckleheads”.

        • anamaria23

          With due respect to your brave son, one remark offered in a semi jocular way does not constitute “contempt for the young citizens of this nation” which I do not believe Michelle Obama holds. You may choose to do so if it reinforces your mindset.

    • hennorama

      RonShirtz — all you’ve done is use the topic as an excuse to take a gratuitous shot at the First Lady. Perhaps next time you’ll heed the name of the show, and stay On Point.

      • HonestDebate1

        You really should read your own comments and not throw stones.

  • John Cedar

    Leno is the Gretzky of comedy. He had a good balance of dumbing it down for the American’s funniest home video crowd and throwing one in for everyone else too. Very quick witted and fairest of the librul communist talk show crowd.

    Fallon is the most talented as a performer but he as no sense of “cool” while ironically believing himself to be a hipster cutting edge guy. I don’t care how many albums Timberlake sold in Japan or whoever is buying them.

    Fallon does have more mass appeal than Letterman and Conan but he interviews guests even worse if that’s possible.

    If they want a show that could be popular one year and disappear the next then they got their guy. With Carsen I saw countless comedic icons get introduced to the nation when I was growing up. Being edgy means he has to introduce us to the new talent.

  • Erik Brunar

    Jimmy Fallon’s entertainment genius is among the best things of any kind that America has to offer. Tom, his guests, and his callers captured it well on today’s show.

    As an Austrian living in Berlin and married to an American, I’d like to speak about the hundreds of millions around the world like me: we are married to, went to school with, have family who are, and/or work for Americans. Many of us have had chances to stay in the US and we are conversant enough in language and culture to follow much of North American comedy.

    In Fallon, you have a late night presenter who is a good interviewer, who can sing and dance: what a pleasure! He can play around too, get down and dirty on a pretty wide spectrum from madcap to surreal but with always the hint of warmth and compassion that, to me, underlies much of his charisma.

    He is remarkably at ease with people from different cultures and this in turn can set at ease viewers across generations and backgrounds. A lot of us aspire to be that way ourselves and like it when the United States elects as a leading figure somebody who is so clearly one of us.

    The first youtube video after many years that I saw from his previous show was of him and the Roots covering the R. Thicke hit last summer on toy instruments. It was sublime. I was floored by the heartfelt musicianship and the unvarnished rapport among him and the members of his house band the Roots (the Roots! I still sometimes have to pinch myself. Thanks to Chris for turning me on to the Roots all those years ago! We wish you well in recovery!). I love the new theme music: it’s sunny yet full of little harmonic digressions; it’s all beautifully held together by the central drive to greater and greater excitement because here’s… Jimmy!

    I have the bandwidth to watch several clips a week, provided they make it to me through the deluge of daily news and the reliable showers of Stewart-Colbert.

    I presume that we friends of the USA, whose personal lives have intersected and been intertwined with the lives of Americans around the world, share the broad appreciation that America is capable of both the best and the worst. It’s nice to see the best triumph again. Even if it is “just a TV show”.

  • HonestDebate1

    I didn’t say any of that. I said he is a sexual predator and that is undeniably true. There is no debate about it. They even had a “bimbo eruptions” unit to run interference. Betty Curry was in charge.

    That’s mighty harsh to call Hillary a hag. I would never do that.

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