Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ Future: Three Things To Watch

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon’s first time as host of “Tonight,” which took place at midnight Tuesday, marks the start of what will likely be decades of a new face in front of one of latenight’s longest running programs. But his debut won’t answer every question you may have about the new edition of the program or the host at the center of it.

Below, three things that bear watching:

 The Sidekick: Steve Higgins has a long tenure in the world of comedy – and in the world of Lorne Michaels, who now oversees “Tonight.” But you may not see any of his expertise if you blink.

Higgins, a veteran producer of ”Saturday Night Live,” has quietly served as the announcer and sounding board for Jimmy Fallon during his time on “Late Night,” and he looks to do so again on “Tonight.”

Whether the audience grasps that remains to be seen.

Where “Late Show with David Letterman” bandleader Paul Shaffer matches his host’s acerbic wit with flamboyance, Higgins uses a very soft shoe when treading near Fallon. Take this exchange from the pair’s first time on “Tonight”:

FALLON: To my right is our announcer and psychic Steve Higgins. He’s from Iowa, and now he lives in New Jersey with a beautiful family and cool kids. Steve, I’ve known you for a while, you’re a producer on “Saturday Night Live,” where I met you for the first time. I couldn’t think of anyone else to do this with. You’re one of my best friends. I love you. This is gonna be fun.

HIGGINS: I just want to say to you, that I couldn’t be prouder—

FALLON: (Interrupts) This is a moment in TV history. Even if I wasn’t involved, I’d be so psyched to watch it…

Will Higgins develop a voice during the show other than the one he uses to introduce the host? Time will tell…

The Guests: Bookers have clearly worked hard on the first two weeks of Fallon’s “Tonight.” After luring Will Smith, Jerry Seinfeld and Justin Timberlake to Week One, staffers have managed to capture Reese Witherspoon, Denzel Washington and Cameron Diaz to Week Two.

What will happen after the hoopla dies down and the show starts to rely less on A-listers and more on folks from the worlds of government, sports, business and – that staple of latenight – animal training?

Fallon has proven adept at happy talk with top guests, eager to turn his enthusiasm for a celebrity’s movies, fashions or other work into enough patter to fill the space between commercials, His flair for enlisting guests to take part in games or even funny sketches that go viral is verging on legendary.

His move to the 11:35 p.m. slot, however, may force him to start boning up on his skills in other types of conversations, like current affairs and politics. He’s been able to avoid that sort of thing in the recent past, getting President Obama to “slow jam the news” or cajoling First Lady Michelle Obama to dance. But audiences may, over time, want to see the host develop a more probing style of conversation, one that gets answers to questions people may have for celebs in the hot seat or politicians in the middle of a campaign.

It’s a forte David Letterman has truly mastered since he addressed the nation’s Sept 11, 2001 tragedy, and one that serves him well as his audience grows older and as his younger competitors rely more heavily on sketches that go viral in social media. As Fallon’s time in the “Tonight” seat lengthens, will he add to the humor and spark already in his quiver?

The Rivals: Just because “Tonight” has a new host doesn’t mean the other shows in the time period are going silent. As Stephen Colbert, who appeared in one of the opening segments of Fallon’s first show, said, “Welcome to 11:30, bitch!”

ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel” may be the one to watch most closely. ABC and NBC will likely vie for the broadest swath of latenight viewers of the future. Tomorrow night, the fight begins in earnest. As Fallon is set to feature Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Lady Gaga, Kimmel will feature a first look at “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a new movie derived from the comics and sure to be of interest to a good chunk of the guys between 18 and 34 the Fallon show would love to have. The movie is backed by Marvel, which just happens to be part of Disney, like ABC.

Both programs will offer a lot to make viewers laugh, but make no mistake about the fight going on behind the scenes.

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  1. Micki says:

    Higgins was a great part of Late Night, and will continue to be so on Tonight…did you even watch Late Night before writing this? Higgins is hilarious, and Jimmy Fallon is too for that matter…he’s going to be great. Also: the interrupting Higgins was clearly a bit, and very funny. Did you watch it? Or just read a transcript and their bios to write this.

    • Brian Steinberg says:

      Higgins is indeed well known in comedy circles Micki. And it was obvious that the interruption on the first night was a bit (so, yes, to answer your question, I watched the first episode and also saw it being taped earlier in the day at NBC). But the sideman’s presence on Late Night and Tonight is decidedly more muted than those of others on the rival shows. It will be interesting to see how his contributions to the program evolve

  2. Spiderwood says:

    “The Tonight Show” will have some adjusting taking place for awhile, especially with the move to NYC. Jimmy himself probably will make some adjustments in style too.

  3. Tim says:

    Another thing he has to do is stop being SNL annex. Wiig, Morgan, Fey, Poehler and others over and over again. It was like SNL on 6 days a week.

  4. cxg says:

    I still remember when Fallon first started his late night show after Conan. A deer caught in headlights is the best phrase to describe those early shows. His monologues still have those dry “I’m reading a joke, please laugh” qualities that just seem uncomfortable. Craig Ferguson still has the most natural fluid monologues imo. Too bad all his other bits have grown stale.

    I can’t help but wonder what are the old people going to watch now Leno is gone. I doubt they’ll latch on to The Roots or the younger shtick Jimmy is prone to (Timberlake rapping anyone?) Good luck Jimmy.

  5. Tommy G says:

    Congratulations to Jimmy Fallon for hosting the new “Tonight Show”. We will no doubt miss Jay like all the other hosts of the long running “Tonight Shows”, but we’re sure the show will continue its FUN, Surprises and Laughter for audiences everywhere.

  6. Correction: None of the late-night hosts, including Fallon, could hold a candle to Jay. The ratings prove that.

  7. This article is very shallow.

    First, lots of us have tried to watch Fallon. While he seems like a nice guy, he is not funny. Conan is much funnier, but neither of them or the other late-night hosts could hold a candle to any of them.

    Second, our alternatives are to go to sleep earlier or watch HBO (or ESPN).

    Third, at some point Jay will be “coaxed” back by Fox, or CNN. Then, he will “steamroll” Fallon and the other hosts once again.

    • Robert Dente says:

      I agree with you Naegele, Fallon is not funny. This is a comic who writes into his material, to break out of character and laugh at his own jokes. Myself, I will just turn on Netflix and watch the real king of late night Johnny Carson.

  8. Peter says:

    Witherspoon? Great. An arrogant diva to be on the show. Why is she still relevant?

  9. kennecttome2 says:

    I hope he doesn’t only do his old schtick with the voice over style he did on his own show. I like him though,and wish him well! Don’t forget Johnny,Jay and Jack huh!

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