Turns out you can teach an old time slot new tricks.
The recent passing of
FOR THE RECORD:
Jimmy Fallon: A critic's notebook in the March 13 Calendar section implied that "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon has not interviewed a U.S. president. In fact, Fallon interviewed President
on his previous show, "
Don't know about talk shows plural, but there's certainly a place for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," if only because Fallon's been rigorously carving it out from the calcified post-nightly news landscape himself.
Whether he's playing Flip Cup with Annette Bening, photo-bombing tourists with Jon Hamm, taking a Polar Plunge dare from Rahm Emanuel or just chatting it up with the endless array of his "very favorite" people, Fallon has, in less than two months, re-framed the franchise and sparked the kind of audience excitement "The Tonight Show" hasn't seen in years.
The ratings have soared, and why not? Where else are you going to see Michelle Obama hamming it up with
Fallon's midcareer energy infuses his "Tonight Show" with the kind of good-natured, slightly silly "welcome to the party" feel that
It may still be difficult to imagine Fallon interviewing the president (although if
Admittedly, Fallon gave us quite a scare in the beginning. His Feb. 17 debut was nothing if not underwhelming. Uncharacteristically subdued and pale, Fallon spent much of the hour downplaying his worthiness to accept the mantle.
If it hadn't been for U2 (who played on the roof of
Whether it was a clever exercise in expectation management or just a bad case of opening-night jitters, that initial clammy uncertainty is now just a distant memory. Fallon has swiftly claimed ownership of the iconic hour in a way that pays homage to tradition — relax everyone, there will still be an opening monologue — but, mercifully, does not bow to it.
Under Johnny, and then Jay, "The Tonight Show" became very pleased with itself. For up-and-coming comedians, snagging a "spot on Carson" could make or break a career, and eventually that feeling extended itself across the entertainment industry. For moviemakers, musicians, writers and eventually politicians, an appearance on "The Tonight Show" became such a marketing necessity it was treated as an honor.
While this cemented the show as a ratings leader, it also made the guy behind the desk seem more monarch as host; even the ever-amiable Leno granted an audience more than sat down for a chat.
Fallon may have the desk, but it seems more like a place for him to park his Chinese food or write his Thank You notes than a symbol of authority. Sweetly enthusiastic enough to overcome even an annoying reliance on first-person plural — every guest is "our favorite" whom "we just love" — Fallon is much closer to his pre-hosting days than Leno or
Indeed, many of his early guests, including
And it isn't just age. Unlike, say,
As both a recently married guy and a new father, Fallon straddles the thirty/fortysomething demo. His famous boyishness, musical inclinations and facility with social media resonate with a younger generation. All of which he knows and plays up to his advantage. Who doesn't like a good photo-bombing set?
His "Tonight Show," like his "Late Night," is also much more of an ensemble gig than his predecessors. After his opener, Fallon engages in a comedic conversation with his announcer Steve Higgins that's often longer (and funnier) than the monologue.
As with "
Concerned over declining viewership and an aging demographic,