The moment all late night enthusiasts have been anticipating for a year finally made its mark on television history this past Monday when Jimmy Fallon took the driver’s seat of The Tonight Show from the reluctant Jay Leno and brought it back to New York City for the first time in over 40 years.
One of the first lines Fallon uttered in his opening monologue was, “I’ll be your host…for now.” It was a nice subtle reference to the drama that went down during the previous late night switch, without drawing too much attention to it. He then thanked all the previous hosts, including Conan O’Brien, who was treated like an STD after he stepped down from The Tonight Show back in 2010, with NBC acting like his stint as host never happened.
I was surprised that there was no special opening segment like Conan did on his first Tonight Show, with him running across the country from New York to Los Angeles. It just opened like it was any other episode, although Jimmy mentioned that Spike Lee directed the opening credits.
Announcer Steve Higgins and house band The Roots followed Jimmy from Late Night, which are two of the main reasons that the show stayed in New York. The Roots are based out of Philly and still commute back and forth, and Higgins is a producer and writer for Saturday Night Live. It was a wise move not to lose either of them because they undoubtedly played a big part in Jimmy’s success with Late Night.
As likable as Jimmy is, his habit of not being able to keep a straight face has followed him from his Saturday Night Live days. It happened on his premiere night when he interrupted Higgins just as Steve was getting into a sentimental speech about their friendship. Jimmy’s inability to stay in character can be irritating at times, but it can usually be overlooked.
“Tonight Show Superlatives” was a bit that got a few chuckles out of me. He chose athletes from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and gave than a “Most likely to…” award, such as those that are seen in high school yearbooks.
The funniest segment was when he gave a shout out to his “buddy” who owes him $100 for betting that he would never host The Tonight Show. A parade of celebrity friends of Jimmy then proceeded to walk on set one at a time and hand Jimmy the money they owed him, starting with Robert DeNiro, Tina Fey, Joe Namath, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mariah Carey (who brilliantly took the bill out of her cleavage – highlight of the night – and threw it on Jimmy’s desk in a diva-like fashion), Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Tyson, Lady GaGa, and finally Stephen Colbert, who brought out his dues in a bucket of pennies and said “Welcome to 11:30 – bitch!” which was referencing the fact that his show The Colbert Report also starts at 11:30.
Next up was main guest Will Smith doing the “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” with Jimmy, which included a dance called “The Carlton” to the song “It’s Not Unusual.” Will walked off the stage once the twerking started. After that, U2 performed their new song “Invisible” on the roof of 30 Rock, 70 stories above New York’s own Rockefeller Center. So I lied before: THIS was the most awesome moment of the night. It was a performance definitely worthy of being pushed up to the middle of the show instead of saving it for the end, as is commonplace for the late night talk show format. Then Will came back out for his interview, and U2 later returned as well and performed an acoustic song while sitting on the couch, rapping up a satisfying first episode.
I still feel that it’s unfair that Jimmy hosted Late Night for only five years, considering Letterman and Conan hosted for well over a decade before they moved up to 11:30. It’s ironic that the show started at midnight, and the reason Conan left NBC is because his show would have been pushed back to 12:05. Once the Olympics are over, however, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon will go back to its traditional time of 11:35. They really went all out with trying to get a huge lead-in by airing the debut during the Olympics. The original plan was for Jimmy to start after the Olympics. Even before that, he was supposed to start in May of this year.
Although it took me some time to accept Fallon’s early promotion to the Tonight Show throne, it’s clear that he’ll work hard to entertain us late night fans for the next decade or two. As long as NBC doesn’t change their minds. Again.