TV Review: ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon has clearly come a long way since his bathed-in-sweat premiere hosting “Late Night,” which bore a minor resemblance to Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News.” Yet watching the boyish-looking comic make his debut on “The Tonight Show” Monday, the prevailing sense is NBC’s eagerness to promote him – and elbow Jay Leno toward the exit sign – exhibits a marginal grasp of TV history. Like Conan O’Brien, a more interesting if less accessible talent, Fallon is sure to start well. But one suspects part of Leno’s older audience will drift away, leaving behind some familiar questions about sacrificing reach in the name of younger demos.

O’Brien actually put in 17 years of apprenticeship before he officially got his shot at the 11:35 p.m. slot, only to get a classic lesson in being careful what you wish for. Fallon might be the beneficiary initially in having spent less time as Leno’s lead-out, offering more people an opportunity to discover him, as it were, in this new setting.

Indeed, Fallon comes across as eager to please almost to a fault, and he treated his “Tonight Show” launch very much like a guy auditioning to be accepted into homes. He even went through a very basic introduction (he’s 39; married with a young kid; his parents were in the audience) that didn’t feel so much like latenight satire as Katie Couric’s first episode of her syndicated daytime show.

Still, the front-loaded premiere (really part of a heavily accessorized week, using the Olympics and big-name guests as a springboard) demonstrated both some of Fallon’s strengths as well as his weaknesses.

After the obligatory monologue, the host segued into a couple of bits with serious second-day-viewing potential, including an extended walk-in by more than a dozen luminaries (former “Tonight Show” guest host Joan Rivers among them), and a hip-hop dance routine with Will Smith. That gave way to the night’s one real visual flourish – a rooftop performance by U2 that opened up the show in an interesting way while taking advantage of the Manhattan skyline.

For all his skills as a performer, though, Fallon is still a question mark in terms of his ability to make magic out of nothing at the desk, the place where Johnny Carson and David Letterman thrived – and endured. And frankly, his “Aw shucks, I’m just so happy to be here” posture in Monday’s maiden interviews with Smith and U2 got a little tedious even before the night was over.

A subtle clue to the challenges Fallon potentially faces could be found in his opening gag, when Stephen Colbert capped off the parade of stars by saying, “Welcome to 11:30, bitch!”

“The Tonight Show” has a long and storied history, and Fallon might very well be suited to guide it into the digital age, with all the ancillary requirements and possibilities that entails. At the same time, it’s pretty clear he has no intention of reinventing the wheel; even the set felt like it could just as easily have been Johnny or Jay behind the desk.

The bottom line is “The Tonight Show’s” new steward is seeking to carve out his place in a very crowded field. And as Conan discovered, the marathon doesn’t really begin until after the glow from the Olympics has faded.

NBC was going to have to face that baton pass eventually. But given the vagaries of latenight succession — and Leno’s role as a once and future king — it’s hard to see being in any hurry to start a new race.

TV Review: 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon'

(Series; NBC, Mon. Feb. 17)


Produced in New York by Broadway Video and Universal Television.


Executive producer, Lorne Michaels; producers, Josh Lieb, Gavin Purcell; line producer, Brian McDonald; head writer, A.D. Miles; music director, ?uestlove; house band, The Roots. 60 MIN.


Host: Jimmy Fallon

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  1. I have been a loyal viewer for many years in the past of The Tonight’s show. I am looking forward to turning another channel now at 11:35pm. I have had enough of the boring childish games, unknown guests and unheard of singing bands. There’s no real interaction among the guests on current affairs or their families, favorite charities, etc. The Tonight Show is an extension 3 out of 5 nights SNL clones skits. It’s become a pattern of whoever is going to be on SNL will be on the Tonight show then make their rounds to Late night with Seth Myers. Jimmy needs to let go of so much SNL humor or join their cast again. He was much more enjoyable on SNL than he is now. I’m definitely looking forward to the other channels at 11:35pm.

  2. Deborah says:

    I’m bored already watching you play games with celebrities, perform with celebrities, ingratiate yourself into events all over. We got it. You have a charmed life. Congratulations. At first I could be happy for you. It’s getting old having all the things you are experiencing shoved into my face. I watch TV, including the tonight show, to relax and be entertained. Up until now, the tonight show was, good or not so good, a vehicle to entertain an audience. It has now become Jimmy Fallon’s personal vehicle to experience the things he’s been lucky enough to have. All except the ability to entertain. That he seems to have lost. I don’t bother watching anymore. It’s boring, and who wants to watch Jimmy Fallon, who seems to have a silver spoon, get annoyed night after night and complain because he’s “competitive” if he’s not winning some dumb game. A message to Jimmy … part of the charm of the tonight show was the feeling that it belonged to America. You seem to think it belongs to you. You made a big deal the other day about not singing along with “Let It Go.” Well, gee, thank you, how gracious of you, glad you let us know how gracious you actually could be. We wouldn’t want to not know that. How about giving your guests their own opportunity to shine. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. Even Johnny would step back sometimes, and that ability is a talent you don’t have. Although you’re very talented. You make sure we know that constantly. Until it is no longer an hour of Jimmy Fallon with a few celebrities thrown in for him to use to perform even more, thanks but no thanks.

    • Lee says:

      Well said. I used to like the show and tell others to give Jimmy Fallon a chance. But, the show has gotten so boring. Everything seems to revolve around Jimmy. Who wants to tune it to watch the host play stupid games, constantly interrupt the guest and act like an ungracious, competitively annoying teenager. I rarely catch the show now and certainly don’t make a point to watch it anymore. There’s no interview, just Fallon thrusting himself into every possible opportunity. He’s the kid who got a video camera as a present and never stopped recording himself. I recently watched Chef Gordon Ramsay on The Tonight Show, which summed it all up when Chef interrupted Jimmy and asked if he could speak! Perfect. I wouldn’t want to go on that show if I were a celebrity.

  3. Mel says:

    Jimmy Fallon’s sense of humor does not appeal to middle agers like me. Some of his skits and audience games are downright stupid. I can’t believe that he ran around the studio last night to see if the audience members wanted to win a dollar. Seriously??? I’m not impressed.

  4. I have watched Jay Leno hosting the Tonight Show for many years, and enjoyed it all. I am appreciative of change, and have been looking forward to seeing the new Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. In general, I would say that the show has started out “okay.”
    However this past Thursday night, I was very disappointed when he included the pathetic TeenNick “Ew!” sketch! It was horrid… Not funny… Just pathetic. I was embarrassed that Mrs Obama was dragged into it. She is such a classy lady, and clearly a great sport to participate in that junky sketch. What age audience are you hoping to attract? I doubt that even teenage girls would find that sketch to be humorous… I will give him a few more opportunities to provide entertainment for adults before I tune elsewhere.

  5. Jon says:

    We miss Jay so much. We gave Jimmy a try during his first week, but were dissapointed to say the least. The first night was flat and had no momentum. The U2 pieces were the only bright spot of an otherwise dismal debut. I admit I am in the upper end of the demographic NBC seems to be shooting for (60), the slap stick humor, Jimmy and Will Ferrell with First Lady Michelle Obama, was so immature, I had to turn it off. Sorry NBC, but you lost me on this one.

  6. Richie says:

    Conan is far far more the professional. He is the only one who knows what to do. Fallon destroyed the Tonight Show.. final blow was his obsession for Timberlake. Get a room you guys.

  7. Scott Smith says:

    Juvenile to the point of being unwatchable. Can we have Conan back?

  8. annie says:

    I gave Fallon a try. This is not the Tonight Show. It is a replica (and a bad one) of SNL. Sure Jimmy has talent but not as host of a big talk show. He lacks everything that Jay Leno had. Jimmy can’t deliver a monolog. He is nervous and jittery. I predict a huge failure here. It was a huge mistake letting Leno go.Huge.What were they thinking?

  9. I’m not impressed with his debut week. Very immature stuff. I must be getting too old to appreciate frat boy humor.

  10. chuck booth says:

    I think hes already evolved as far as he can and that’s about 12 years old

  11. Rosie Campbell says:

    From the beginning of Fallon’s foray into late night talk show hosting, he appeared (to me) to be mimicking Johnny’s personal style (fidgeting with cufflinks, speech patterns, and even the laugh). He could “become” Johnny, but allowing the real Jimmy to evolve might be more interesting. I have the Best of Carson on DVDs already.

  12. chuck booth says:

    Jimmy needs to host sesame street. childish humor

  13. Catherine Elliott says:

    Jimmy, I love you…..I really do. But could we get off the political figures, please? This doesn’t help you. I can’t imagine a lot of presidents before Clinton that would be on a talk show. And truthfully? I watch you for comedy, not for politics.

  14. Colin says:

    Fallon wasn’t the obvious choice for the late night show, either. But he rose to the challenge very quickly. No, he’s not a great interviewer yet, but he’s a hard worker and has the potential. Let’s not forget just how poor an interviewer Leno is/was. Jay was all about the monologue, Jimmy’s all about energy and fun. He’ll grow into that timeslot’s desk and do just fine.

  15. gco211 says:

    “And as Conan discovered, the marathon doesn’t really begin until after the glow from the Olympics has faded.”

    Conan started in June and had no Olympic lead in. Leno’s contract was specifically ended early in order to get Fallon the boost that was not afforded to Conan and not start after the television season ends, but instead to use NBC’s biggest lead in for an every night of the week series, the Olympics.

  16. Leah says:

    I caught Jimmy Fallon’s show a few times. I really enjoyed it. After watching last night, I doubt his personality fits into the long-standing institution’s line of distinguished hosts. He’s going to have to tone things down. The show was more about him than any other. He talked over Will Smith most of the time, hardly drew any information out of Smith, and I see that he’s already featured in a skit for tonight’s show. Characteristic of Carson & Leno’s humor was the displayed control in the most awkward moments. Viewers from all walks of life, from varying decades, have consistently been drawn to this style. I agree with one post that Fallon’s immature humor is not going to keep a good percentage of current viewers.

  17. notabene says:

    Fallon never had much talent even when he was on SNL. How he got Late Night is a bit of mystery. And then he seems to have gotten the Tonight Show based on that even though his rating were never that good and often lost to the Late Late Show. If NBC wanted to replace Leno then why did they not try to have a wider range of talent to select from—no women where ever considered for the position for example—and I do not see why working on SNL has become a requirement—considering the decline that show has been on for some years now. Really, there was no one but Fallon who could be host? What is the logic of that? Fallon is not going to bring any new audience to the Tonight Show. It is more than likely that the audience will decline a bit from Leno. If they wanted to go in a new direction and to make a bold move I do not see Fallon as the person to do that? And picking Seth Myers as the new host of Late Night—really—that is the best they can do and again no women were considered. Why are they shoving too many of these second rate comics on to viewers???—why not select some one with some intellect, some one who knows how to have an conversation–none of these people seem to have any talent for that—why not look to radio—like NPR’s This American Life or Radio Lab—any of these hosts who have been a much better choice than Fallon or Myers. Must See TV I think not!

  18. R. says:

    Why can’t anyone step up to the plate and give Jay Leno his due? He is a great comic and his Show was funny, entertaining and consistently great to enjoy. He had great guests on – namely his regulars were excellent – and he did Johnny proud. Let’s stand up and praise Jay as the last great host of The Tonight Show. Jay: No. 1 for over 20 years!!!!!!!!!!!! Bravo JAY LENO.

  19. Dave says:

    Nobody can ever replace Carson. What nobody but Howard Stern it seems realizes is that it is the interviews and the way they are conducted is what made Carson great. Stars came out to plug their latest projects but Carson’s style made the viewer feel they were not being sold on a “product” Stern is the only one with Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars getting Coffee” channel that “conversational” style. Fallon has talent but as an interviewer? Meh….Stern is the best host for a show like the Tonight show because he asks the interesting questions in a natural conversational style in the past few years. I hope Fallon does well. Leno was a bore.

  20. margo russell says:

    I found his neediness pathetic, his attempt at humility lacking, his humor silly as always, and an end to my watching of the Tonight Show! With the help of social media he created himself, much like Justin Bieber. His claim to fame was Sat. Live which has become so tiresome it provides no cutting edge humor as it once did. Jay Leno is a pro and very quick. Letterman will have to step up his act. I am hoping Jimmy Kimel in LA wiil get the best stars! Especially those who do not care to jump up and down or smash eggs on their heads with Fallon. A sad evolution of the Tonight show!

  21. Gary P says:

    Jimmy Fallen was a good choice for business and entertainment. His first show was well crafted and very entertaining. Will Smith said it best…people are here because of him…his heart. I agree and look forward to more in the future.

  22. abraxis says:

    When does leno on fox start? Fallon is a fake new York ass kisser who hopes his relationships make up for his lack of comedy. He’s worse than Conan and middle America isn’t gonna go for his NY based humor and show tunes skits, send this loser back to his twitter account, he’s better at that than being a comedian. I thought i was watching an infomercial on scientology when will smith was talking about gifting the world and not being egotistical. Biggest load of bs ive heard in a while especially when his last film completely contradicted his statements. Bono, fallon and will smith are all completely fake and i lost respect for the roots for being a part of this sham.

  23. James callanan says:

    The monologue proved silly. Nothing political or controversial
    The whole would play better during the day
    Looking for an adult program

  24. Dav says:

    I don’t think it will work out for long. For 40 years people have been conditioned to Carson and Leno who who both had a comforting, controlled and mature demeanor. Fallon is too wacky and his humor is juvenile. He’s obviously very talented and attractive but not someone I want to see and hear while winding down my day. I would have much preferred Conan. I predict ratings will take a severe dive within a month.

  25. Kirby says:

    I love Jimmy Fallon and I loved Late Night with Jimmy Fallon but if the NBC execs feel that audiences will allow them to morph the Tonight Show into Late Night, they may be in for a surprise. Over time, The Tonight Show is what has become the institution. It is the “constant” in people’s lives. Faithful viewers in all demographics like the show because they can depend on the format and the “light”, more relaxed nature of the program’s content. Change is difficult for everyone but viewers will adapt to Jimmy’s style even if they aren’t familiar with it. He has the “Carson” factor with loads of extra talent. I only hope Fallon and NBC will remember to ease into showcasing Jimmy’s talent and not employ too many pre-taped segments on a regular basis as these often have too much of an “in your face” or “over the top” influence on the atmosphere/mood of the show. The Tonight Show audience will measure Jimmy Fallon’s worthiness as host by how well he can guide the show from the monologue as well as from behind the desk.

  26. mattki says:

    I thought this first show was great. I believe that he gave the information about his parents, age, and marital status were an attempt to reach out to the old audience that is generally scared of “new”. Let’s face it, there is a large population of people in this country that balk at anything not familiar, or something that they just don’t expect.

    That being said, his monologue was tighter than usual, though I’m sure he has been preparing for this debut for a long time.

    As for your line about “making magic behind the desk” – I believe that Jimmy had already been “making magic” on “Late Night” for a few years, just not necessarily behind the desk. Some of his antics (such as the mom dancing with Michelle Obama, and that whole extended bit with Bill Cosby approaching the Roots) are comedy bits that have already have achieved classic late night status. He also has the best host->band interaction in the business, with the Roots providing an incredible character to the show, able to produce bits that show off musical virtuosity and downright hilarity (see the Doors-interpretation of Reading Rainbow, or the Bob Dylan impersonating from “Late Night”).

    He also seems to be beloved by Hollywood, further allowing him to “make magic” because he puts most stars in a very comfortable position.

    I say onward and upward – we have our new Jimmy Fallon – that’s right, not our new “Johnny Carson”, because why would we want Jimmy to be anyone but Jimmy?

  27. chuck booth says:

    Who doesn’t like Hollywood but you should have talent to be there out of his league

  28. DL says:

    First time I’ve watched The Tonight Show since that unctuous functionary stole it. Jimmy Fallon is a young Carson. NBC must give him time to grow into the spot, already he proves he has the goodwill and love of Hollywood. And that chin needs to stay home and change the oil in the cars.

  29. chuck booth says:

    don’t get me wrong I like jimmy fallen but the tonight show is not for him boring

  30. chuck booth says:

    It sucked Weres our Beloved Leno

  31. Jerry K says:

    Brian, you’ve been a Leno shill for years. Fact is, most of the reviews this morning are excellent.

  32. Since when are Will Smith, Joan Rivers and Kardashian A-list guests on what’s been billed as a newer young and hip late night show with Jimmy Fallon? The Beatles rooftop Apple concert in 1969 was gritty and groundbreaking – U2’s carefully staged 30 Rock roof performance was a direct rip off from 45 years ago and boring, and Ed Sheeran would’ve been a better musical guest. Young people – who NBC’s trying to attract – are watching Stewart and Colbert because they’re edgy, smart and appeal to a wider audience. Fallon is likable but the Tonight Show’s format of taped segments and skits just doesn’t work any longer.

  33. Fallon Fan says:

    I was a fan of Fallon’s Late Night Show so was eager to see the 1st night of The Tonight Show. Fallon’s show was fresh and more entertaining than those of Jay Leno, or any of the other late show hosts,although I liked Jay the writing seemed tired and worn. I find Jimmy Fallon’s comic bits to be hilarious, his humor almost always makes be laugh! I appreciated his introduction and what appeared to be a sincere case of nerves. My opinion is that Fallon is heir apparent to the King Johnny Carson. Congratulations, Jimmy!

    • chuck booth says:

      please will smith first gust poor move

      • ruprecht says:

        NBC’s big move to capture younger audiences produced Will Smith as the FIRST GUEST EVER (!) on the new Tonight Show? I would have been more impressed with one of the parade of persons handing Fallon a $l00 bill in return for the ostensible loss of a wager. The interchange between Fallon and his guest was more than boring, and if one otherwise wanted to hear that kind of interchange, one need only listen in on a group of high school boys discussing their adventures of last summer after their return to class for the sophomore year. I did admire Fallon’s wonderful and often-performed satire of the Beegees as well as his Boston Red Sox skits on Saturday Night Live, but he has donned another costume now, and that does not fit in a show with a guest-interviewer format where there is ostensibly a topic of discussion and not just banal and willy nilly banter. I would hesitate to predict how successful the new show will be, but if I compare this new version of the Tonight Show as it is now, not only with Carson and Leno but also with the competition on other networks, I am reminded of the difference between the humor of Jon Stewart and the sophomoric variety of Stephen Colbert. I am a regular watcher of Stewart, and when Colbert follows, I either change the channel or turn the TV off.

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