NEW YORK — Heeeere's Jimmy!
Jimmy Fallon made his debut Monday as the new host of "The Tonight Show" in an inaugural broadcast that was heavy on star power and sought to capitalize on the franchise's new digs in New York City after 42 years on the West Coast.
"It's a historic day. There's nothing better than being here as 'The Tonight Show' returns to 30 Rock," said Adam Bloom, 38, of New York, as he waited in line to attend the new show's very first taping at NBC's headquarters in midtown Manhattan.
History loomed large throughout the broadcast, which opened with a sequence directed by Spike Lee featuring Fallon at famous New York landmarks. The program was taped at the fully refurbished Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, a sophisticated space outfitted with high ceilings, amber-colored wood paneling and a pale blue couch.
"I'm Jimmy Fallon and I'll be your host … for now," cracked the 39-year-old, in a nod to the infamous clash between his predecessors Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.
In opening remarks made to the 240 or so audience members, Fallon struck a sincere "aw shucks" tone, proudly introducing himself, his house band the Roots and announcer Steve Higgins. He even said "Hi," to his parents, Jimmy and Gloria Fallon, seated in the audience.
"I just want to do the best I can and take care of this show for a while and if you guys let me stick around long enough, maybe I'll get the hang of it," he said. "My goal is to make you laugh so you go to sleep with a smile on your face and live a longer life."
With that, Fallon began his monologue in earnest. Lengthened over the past year per advice from Leno and delivered from a spot on the studio floor marked by a four-leaf clover, it was decidedly Olympics-centric on an otherwise slow news day, with the requisite cracks about ice dancing and Bob Costas' eye infection.
The monologue also included an Olympics-themed "Superlatives," one of several comedic bits carried over from "Late Night."
Fallon and his producers pulled out all the stops for another segment in which a cavalcade of celebrities strolled onstage to hand the host a crisp $100 bill — each apparently having bet (and lost) that he'd never become the host of "Tonight."
First up was Robert De Niro, Fallon's inaugural guest on "Late Night" in 2009, who was followed by his one-time "Weekend Update" co-anchor Tina Fey, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the ubiquitous Kim Kardashian and a bewigged Lady Gaga, among many others.
Last to ante up was Fallon's new time-slot rival, Stephen Colbert. "Welcome to 11:30,'' said the Comedy Central host, adding an expletive, as he poured a bucket of pennies over his new competitor.
In choice of guests — U2 and Will Smith — Fallon seemed to be shooting for the mainstream. Clad in denim overalls and brightly patterned T-shirts, he and Smith presented a pre-taped segment called "The Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing," a revival of one of "Late Night's" most popular recurring bits. (Fallon famously presented "The Evolution of Mom Dancing" with First Lady Michelle Obama last year.)
Fallon later asked Smith, "one of the biggest movie stars in the world," for advice dealing with the pressure of his new job. "People are coming for you," the actor replied. "'The Tonight Show' is big and it's historic, but people are coming for your heart."
With his trademark hyperbole, Fallon promised a set by U2 that would "blow [the] pants off" everyone in attendance.
The Irish band performed its song "Invisible" on the rooftop of Rockefeller Center, some 70 stories above the city, at dusk — the final detail coming in a last-minute note from executive producer Lorne Michaels. They were assisted by drummers from the Rutgers University band.
The group also sat for a chat with the host, who seemed keen to discuss his Irish heritage. "We think positively of the potato famine when Jimmy comes into the situation," said lead singer Bono.
Fallon persuaded the band to close the show with an acoustic version of their song, "Ordinary Love," in studio. Though as Bono pointed out, the performance was hardly unplanned.
"Is this one of those spontaneous showbiz moments where things appear from behind the couch?" he asked, and it was.
'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon'
When: Midnight Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 p.m. starting Feb. 21
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)