Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno Put Best Face on ‘Tonight’ Baton Pass

Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon Try to

While Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon were occupied trying to put the best possible face on NBC’s latest “The Tonight Show” baton pass Monday, the night’s best line actually belonged to David Letterman. Leno was in his last week as host, Letterman noted, and the Winter Olympics were about to begin: “Two events that happen every four years.”

Across the dial, Leno sounded mildly nostalgic — talking about this week’s lineup of guests, and saying not to submit any more “Headlines” — before bringing out Fallon, engaging in light banter about the comic’s young child and reminiscing about Fallon’s first “Tonight Show” appearance.

Everyone was gracious, if a little stiff and stilted — and finally, sappy. Closing with his “thank you” bit, Fallon thanked Leno for his “humor and class … and for being nothing but gracious and generous to me over the past years. I will do my best to make you proud every single night.” For his part, Leno made it sound like he was pleased as punch to see Fallon slide into “The Tonight Show” seat that, he recently told Variety, is bigger than any of its occupants.

The only problem, for those who bother to remember such things, is history. Leno has insisted that he’s much more serene about leaving this time around, in part because NBC officials were more solicitous, and in part because he sees Fallon as such a worthy replacement.

Yet the parties all tried to convey precisely the same image five years ago, when Leno handed the reins to Conan O’Brien. And the only person who came away from that interlude happy was the New York Times’ Bill Carter, who got another book out of it.

Leno has stated that he has no interest in hosting another latenight program, but other than a vague reference to being flattered to receive feelers, he hasn’t cemented any plans. And because he’s not the kind of a guy to sit idly on the beach, the network is going to have sweat out the transition for a while, waiting to see if club dates and a lesser TV workload will be enough to keep Leno satisfied in his golden years.

Obviously, NBC is going to consume a lot of oxygen over the next several weeks between Leno’s official exit, the Olympics and Fallon’s debut, but keep an eye on Letterman. Having battled Leno all these years — and helped send O’Brien packing to basic cable — he might have his own push to the finish line, as well as the advantage of nothing left to prove, or lose, beyond a competitive longing to go out on top.

So while Leno might be packing in that old “Headlines” routine, the ones that will really tell the next chapter in the latenight story won’t be written until some time after the “Tonight” torch has been passed — and the Olympic torch has been extinguished.

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  1. Bea says:

    . During last night’s show, I felt Jay was far more comfortable than Jimmy and showed his experience. I do watch the Jimmy Fallon show a lot but it was obvious to me he was nervous. His eye contact was terrible with Jay and the camera. HIs posture was not comfortable. The change over will be interesting! I feel that it is a mistake that the show is moving to New York. It is too bad NBC Los Angeles didn’t push harder to keep it here. Jobs are lost and a major show for the LA area market is lost. We are different than the NY viewers. .

    Jay loves his country music and Garth is a good choice for his last show. It sure won’t be like the last show for Johnny but of course different circumstances. Jay holds in his emotions. In recent interviews that I have seen Jay is being a true gentleman. The Billy Bush interview this past week with Jay I thought was terrible. Billy was continuing to push Jay into negative comments about NBC etc. Jay’s answers were positive with the comment “why create negativity when you have to be upbeat for your audience. When people listen to late night shows they want to relax – it is the end of their day.” Jay you will be missed and for sure I will miss the Jay Leno show.

  2. stan says:

    I have a blog and I stated that Conan would fail and this was years before he took over the “tonight Show”. Conan has always come across like a puppet having a seizure. His interview skills are terrible. His talents are in writing. I hope that he ends up taking over “Saturday Night live” as the executive producer (once Mr Micheals throws in the towel) Jimmy Fallon has better chance as the host but he will need time…. Conan to this day is STILL incapable

    • elliot gainway says:

      Let’s see, Conan was on NBC for 17 years and although his first couple of years were shaky ratings wise he was strongly number one at that time period for 15 solid years. He won several Emmys and in the early 2000’s he had FOX, ABC, and CBS pursuing him with offered of 3 times the money he was making at NBC! Despite your assertions his Late Night show was very inventive and ground breaking and his TBS show is still very inventive and funny.

  3. Duane Henderson says:

    As a man over 55, I am offended with how NBC is pushing out Jay Leno. There will be a cost for tossing older adults to the side of the road. The first Network or Cable Channel to embrace adult viewers will see a surge in ratings. We have money to spend. Jay will be back on another Network and NBC will be sorry.

  4. Steve says:

    Letterman is and always was an asshole, Jimmy Kimmel shouldnt even be on tv, and Jimmy Fallon comes off as phoney to me but i’d rather see him than anyone else thats on late night now, Conan is just an oversize no talent prancing pixie/elf, the most funny, genuine and talented talk show host out there is Ellen and shes smart enough to not be part of the late night trash.

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