by Bill Holmes
The Tonight Show baton officially passed to Jimmy Fallon at 11:00 pm CST on February 17, 2014. He follows Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno (again) as the host. The show has been on continuously since 1954. Extremely long running show hosted by show business legends (except Conan) that has been rated number one in its time slot for most of its run. No pressure for the new kid.
So, how did little Jimmy do on his premiere show? Well let me tell you my impression. First let's start with the set. It is in the same studio that Johnny Carson used when his show originated in NYC. It looks like it was made out of children's wooden blocks to me, even the New York City skyline behind the desk, wooden skyscrapers. The layout is traditional for The Tonight Show. Desk & chair/couch on the left, curtain in the middle and band on the right. Jimmy does have an announcer/sidekick in the person of Steve Higgins who is a holdover from the Late Night show. Another holdover is the band, The Roots. Both are good choices. Steve is funny and The Roots are a terrific band. I didn't get a good look at the audience seating but it looked small. The opening of the show is a filmed montage of NYC sites and Jimmy.
For this first show, Jimmy came out from behind the curtain, as did Johnny Carson, and mostly did an introduction of himself, Steve Higgins, The Roots and even his parents who were in the audience. He said his monologues would be topical, current and make fun of everyone. He then had Steve introduce him again so he could come out and do his monologue. Despite his just made promise to be topical, he wasn't. It consisted almost entirely of a bit called "Most Likely To..." which is based on the high school yearbook tradition of recognizing graduating students as most likely to succeed, etc. This version showed pictures of Olympic athletes and gave them supposedly funny most likely to... captions. This is a bit that Jimmy used almost weekly on his Late Night program. It wasn't particularly funny and it went on too long. My grade for the first monologue is a D.
When he got to the desk he did a bit about someone who said he would never host The Tonight Show and that person knew who they were and owed Jimmy $100. At that point Robert DiNiro came out, gave Jimmy a $100 bill and walked off. Then Tina Fey did the same thing. That was funny but there was then a parade of celebrities that did the same thing. There were over a dozen people including the ubiquitous Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga. The only thing funny after the first couple was Steven Colbert who brought out a bucket of pennies and dumped them on the desk and Jimmy and sarcastically welcomed him to 11:30 pm, the same time as Colbert's show. Once again they took a bit way too far. Three or four would have been funny, over a dozen is not especially when the group consists of people who have no connection to the show.
Next was a bit with Will Smith that traced the evolution of Hip Hop dance moves. Jimmy and Will did each dance side by side as the name of the move was flashed on the screen. This proved one thing, Will Smith is not a very good dancer. It is also a redo of a segment Jimmy did with Michelle Obama last year. That one was funny and Michelle danced way better than Will. This segment didn't do anything for me.
The next segment was a song by U2 from the roof of 30 Rock which is 70 stories tall. It was filmed just past sunset and there was still some orange in the sky with the NYC skyline in the background. A spectacular setting. As for the song, it was OK. I am not much of a U2 fan. As usual Bono over emoted the song.
Will Smith came out for what turned out to be rather lame interview. Nothing memorable or very funny here.
Finally U2 joined Jimmy and Will on the couch for a short pointless interview. As usual Bono dominated the conversation with a little The Edge. The other two members of the band, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, were mute. They then did a fake impromptu unplugged song. Conveniently there was a guitar, bass, tambourine and hand mic behind the couch. Again it was a Bono and The Edge show. Near the end The Roots joined in. It was OK.
In summary, the new Tonight Show looked exactly like the old Late Night show with a new set. Same personnel and same rehashed bits. Again there was a weak monologue which was never a Fallon strong point. I would have thought Jimmy and the staff could have come up with new and funny stuff for such an important first show. It is not fair to judge any TV series on one episode but it is fair to judge the episode. I give it a C-. Not funny, not topical, not original. It has to get better or Jay Leno will be back for a third stint.
The first show is in the bag, what did you think?