Tag Archives: The Tonight Show

Tonight is Just a State of Mind – On the First Week of Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’

It was just over four years ago that much digital ink was spilled on this blog over the Game of Thrones-like* maneuvering in the kingdom of late night. We talked about the principled, heroic path that Conan O’Brien chose, or, arguably, forged. We also suggested that, perhaps, Jay Leno wasn’t the malevolent Machiavelli we all assumed him to be. We also stressed that David Letterman, his house untouched, remained the King of Late Night, the walls of his castle fortified and impenetrable, and he was likely watching, with glee, as his competitors warred around him.** Like with many blogs and media outlets at the time, the post-11:30pm drama dominated the conversation on this site. And now, nearly half a decade later, Leno has been dethroned*** once again, but this is first we’ve written about it. Why? Because this time Leno was replaced in a bloodless coup, a gracious transfer of power, with the young, affable Jimmy Fallon ascending to The Tonight Show desk in grand, but still humble and respectful fashion. 

In fact, four episodes into Fallon’s Tonight Show and the only real notable shift from Late Night is that the former program has returned to New York, where it began so many years ago. And that geographical stasis might explain why Fallon’s Tonight does not stray very far at all from his Late Night, save for a new, gorgeous coliseum-like theater, more space for the thirty-four members of The Roots and an opening sequence directed by Spike Lee (whatever that entails). Nearly through his first week as the guy, Fallon has already trotted out Late Night favorites like “The Evolution of_____,” the Ragtime Gals barbershop quartet, the #Hashtag sketch, and charades (a segment that, no doubt, inspired NBC to develop my parent’s new favorite show, Celebrity Game Night). What is actually most interesting and telling to us, even if it is a fluke of the schedule, a footnote due to the Olympic programming, is that Fallon’s Tonight Show actually debuted at midnight, a concept that Conan O’Brien found so sacrilege that it became the keystone of his argument for parting ways with NBC.

But with Fallon, so attuned to the world of DVRs and YouTube, time slots are meaningless, just some listing in TV guide, historical minutiae. His show would not be measured by the number of viewers during a certain hour. It wouldn’t even be measured with +7 ratings or YouTube. It would be measured by laughs, it would be judged by the barometer of fun. What Fallon’s Tonight Show has demonstrated thus far, and supported by his temporarily delayed time slot, is that it’s the “Show” part that matters, not the “Tonight” part. If he can make people laugh, especially an A-list celebrity or legendary music group, or Steve Higgins or his own parents, or you at home or your own parents, then he’s happy. Then he’s doing the show that he wants. Unlike Conan, Fallon cedes the floor to his guests. And, unlike Conan, Fallon is willing to cede his time slot to network partners, just happy to be a part of the team. Which, again, is less of a magnanimous, unselfish gesture and more the necessities of prime-time Olympic programming. Still, it feels fitting that even when nice guy Jimmy Fallon got the call to the big show, he was bumped thirty minute to accommodate replays of Ice Dancing. And, we feel safe in saying, he couldn’t be happier about it. 

*Fascinating that four years ago, when we wrote all those posts, we didn’t know that Game of Thrones was a thing that existed. 
**Get it? It’s a whole Game of Thrones motif. 
***Okay, we’ll stop. 
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Count Bleh, Good Humor, Talkies

Quick Check: Is Jimmy Fallon Still Killing It?

Just one of our routine check-ins to see if Jimmy Fallon and Late Night are still killing, just in case you were concerned they were getting cocky or complacent after being named The Tonight Show successors. Let’s take a look.

Nope. Still killing it. Good job, guys. Everyone on the floor as well. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Good Humor, Mancrush, Talkies

A Jumped the Snark Shorty: Dave, Lindsay & Alec

Yesterday we talked about how greatly Dave Letterman is revered, how, despite Leno winning the ratings battle, Letterman has clearly won the Late Night war. Part of his appeal, admittedly,  has been his aloofness, his refusal to play by the rules and pander to either the audience or the guests. His rough edge is what, ironically, has made him endearing for three decades. But there are times, rare but documented, when Dave abandons his cranky side, however briefly  and shows true compassion. It is that sensitive, caring, paternal part of Dave that is the flip side to his default curmudgeon state, the yin to his prickly yang that has made him so beloved and appreciated. And it was precisely that element of Dave that was on display when Lindsay Lohan appeared on The Late Show to, ostensibly, promote her appearances with Charlie Sheen in Scary Movie 5 and on Anger Management. However, with Lindsay due to enter court mandated rehab in May, and with Dave’s history of engaging troubled starlets, including Lohan, Letterman not surprisingly steered the conversation towards off-camera matters, boldly confronting Lohan about her personal problems. It was awkward and sad and kind of hard to watch, and certainly not something you’d see from Jay Leno, but it was also classic Dave. And, despite Lohan’s obvious discomfort you can see that she appreciates Dave’s concern, and, conversely, it is plain that Dave’s concern is genuine.

[full interview here]

You can argue that Dave was wrong to drudge up her personal life – clearly Lohan is not in the right state of mind to address these things on-camera – but despite whatever sensationalist motive Dave might have had, you can’t argue that Dave does not care about Lohan. He’s a lot of things, but disingenuous it not one.

In other late night news, reports are indicating that Alec Baldwin is interested in hosting a late night talk show, potentially taking over the 1:35am slot currently (still, somewhat shockingly) occupied by Last Call with Carson Daly,* and that NBC is likewise interested in continuing their relationship with Baldwin. This show would most likely take on the form of an intimate one-on-one interview, something like a television version of Baldwin’s WNYC podcast Here’s the Thing. It would also be akin to Tom Snyder’s Late Late Show, which we discussed in yesterday’s post. As opposed to the possibility of Seth Meyers taking over for Jimmy Fallon on Late Night,  which we explained might be an ill-advised choice, we think this makes more sense. Baldwin is already in the Lorne Michaels/Broadway Video family, having just finished his career redefining stint on the Michael’s produced 30 Rock and having become the definitive SNL host (non-Justin Timberlake category). He’s arguably as popular as ever, and, as his podcast interview with Billy Joel showed, he can be simultaneously intelligent and well-read while still just feeling like a regular guy from Long Island. It’s that easy-going charisma that would make Baldwin a successful interviewer, and it’s not absurd to think that people would enjoy tuning in to see him chat with other actors, writers, musicians for an hour. In fact, it has so much promise, and is so different from what Jimmy Fallon does, it might actually make for a better companion directly after The Tonight Show, whether under the banner of Late Night or as something entirely new. With Fallon’s show being so frantic, so silly, so irreverent, it might be nice to pair it with something more old-fashioned and slower-paced, even if it’s just a Baldwin hosted show one night a week. And Baldwin can do it as long as he wants, until either he or Lorne is ready to for someone or something else. Worst case scenario, it can’t be as bad as The Chevy Chase Show.

*While this post was being written Deadline reported that Last Call with Carson Daly has been renewed for another (13th!) season, so all those words might have been for naught. Still, this might not affect the Baldwin situation, or, perhaps, indicate that he would, in fact, be considered for the Late Night slot.

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Shorties, Talkies, Yasmine Bleeth

What About Dave? The Forgotten Late Night War

David Letterman BeardAbsent, or maybe just ignored, among all the words committed to The Tonight Show plan for succession has been a discussion about what will happen to The Late Show with David Letterman and its lead-out The Late Late Show. Like Jay Leno, Dave has been at this game a long, long time. Unlike Jay, Dave seems to not care about ratings (possibly because he knows he’s likely to lose), does not appear to be that concerned with being well-liked (which has worked to his advantage, and has paradoxically made him more revered) and is not in any imminent danger of being forced out by the network brass, basically been given carte blanche by CBS to stay as long as he wants and, essentially, to do what he wants. When one jump-starts a late night franchise from scratch, we guess he’s granted some amount of immunity. But, unlike Jay, Dave doesn’t have a younger, hipper, potential replacement nipping at his heels, which makes the future of The Late Show even murkier.

While Craig Ferguson has built up a small but very loyal, impassioned following, and has received rave reviews for years from critics, we don’t have the sense that he’s long for his job, or at least eying the 11:35pm slot. In that small studio (we’ve been there) in CBS Television City, without a house band or announcer, Ferguson can deliver long, meandering monologues (verging on soliloquies) straight to camera, as if the audience and the viewing public wasn’t there, and engage in extended, intimate irreverent conversations with a diverse pool of guests. The Late Late Show interviews occupy that space between the celebrity shilling meant for the masses that one can observe on most late night talk shows and the quiet, introspective, one-on-one interviews conducted without a studio audience on past programs like Tom Synder’s Late Late Show. Sometimes it feels like The Late Late Show is performed for the studio audience, and then broadcast to millions of homes as an afterthought. Which isn’t to say that Ferguson couldn’t do a more traditional, more accessible late night show if he were bumped up to the main slot, we’re just not sure he wants to. Signed through 2014, when Letterman’s current contract runs through, it feels in some ways like he’s only there as long as Dave is, his relaxed, low-key, mischievous Scottish wit a complement Dave’s acerbic bitterness. 

But if not Ferguson, then who?

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Makes You Think, Man Plans, Mancrush, Talkies

A Jumped the Snark Shorty: Jimmy & Jay, An East Side Story

Last night on Late Night they kicked off the show with a musical number that joined Jimmy Fallon and his lead-in Jay Leno, the current host of The Tonight Show dueting with the rumored successor. This parody of West Side’s Story’s “Tonight” brought together these two hosts whose names have been so dragged through the news and blogosphere the last few weeks, whose futures have become the subject of much speculation and scrutiny. Leno, from his perch in Burbank, has made no secret of his recent disdain for NBC and its executives; Fallon, like he did during the Leno-Conan controversy three years ago, has done his part to stay out of the fray, trying to stay friendly with everyone and stay as far away from any whispers of backstabbing or plotting as possible. And this sketch goes to show that while Leno might have a considerable beef with NBC brass, he harbors no ill will towards Fallon, and Jimmy, for his part, appreciates all that Jay has done for him. 

However, while this bit illustrates that everything may be copacetic between Jay and Jimmy, it also demonstrates why Fallon is so highly regarded and why he’s so quickly being elevated to the top spot. Yes, this is a great piece of television that shows that Leno can still have a great sense of humor about these things and about all things, but by airing on Late Night it only serves to further bolster Fallon and his team’s credentials, once again proving their creativity and passion for the medium, and their keen ability to capitalize on a situation. This was probably the best four minutes either program will air this week, and some of Late Night‘s best work this year (non-Justin Timberlake category), the A+ material on the network’s B show. But the fact that this bit was conceived and produced by the Late Night team and broadcast as part of Fallon’s show offers yet one more reason why Fallon is ready to take over the mantle. It wasn’t quite passing the torch as it was recognizing where the fire is. 

Right now, Late Night justs get it. Even Leno agrees.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Brilliance, Broadway!, Shorties, Talkies

Watch the Throne: NBC & the Future of ‘The Tonight Show’

Jimmy Fallon Thank You NotesHere we are again, NBC looking ahead to replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show with a hipper, younger host, and a hipper, younger brand. This time, in place of the loose-limbed bean pole with the shock of untamable red locks as successor, we have the shaggy-haired giggle monster and impression impresario as Tonight Show usurper. So what makes NBC think that Jimmy Fallon is the right man for the job – only three years after Conan abdicated – and, perhaps more importantly, why now?

We actually take a somewhat different view from many television critics and media pundits, who believe this is history repeating itself, with the buffoons at NBC either incapable or unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Yes, if you look at the raw data, this move perhaps makes even less sense than the promotion of Conan to the Tonight Show desk in the summer of 2009. Leno, after returning to the late night centerpiece in February 2010, has held his own, even gaining viewers while NBC’s ratings have plummeted. Fallon, only four years and nineteen days removed from his maiden voyage on Late Night, is perhaps not quite ready yet to ascend, whether that be because he needs to further polish and refine his skills, or because he has not yet established enough of a viewership to command a promotion to Johnny Carson’s old spot. Is Jimmy Fallon, who just a decade ago was the  goofball on SNL who couldn’t keep a straight face, ready to tuck in the nation’s older viewers and Slow Jam the News them to bed? And what’s to stop Jay Leno from jumping ship to another network and sticking it to NBC, a possibility  was such a concern four years ago that the Peacock gave Jay a 10pm show, an unequivocal unmitigated disaster.

As Bill Carter reports,* this seems to be all but a done deal, with relations between Jay and the network sinking to an all-time low, bitter invective being spewed on each side. Leno, we can assume, is offended by the lack of respect and credit; after all, he’s still winning his slot while the network crumbles, he’s been a good soldier and has gotten nothing but grief for it. But here’s what’s important, and what makes this different from the Conan situation: as Wired argues in their latest issue, the Nielsen Family is dead and the traditional television model is obsolete. Installing Fallon as Tonight Show host – as reports say will happen by the end of 2014 – is not as much about challenging the upstart and Fallon contemporary Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, as it is about trying a new model, attempting to break out of the box. Fallon has built up a rabid fan base with silly sketches and fun games and brilliant taped pieces, all of which have appealed to the web’s viral culture. Certainly, a popular YouTube video – even one as popular as Justin Timberlake delivering an cappella version of “SexyBack” – doesn’t goose ratings, and it doesn’t do much to affect the bottom line. However, it is indicative of Fallon’s place at the vanguard of new media, of new viewing habits, and at the changing of the guard. Will Fallon alienate some of Leno’s longtime loyal viewers, sending them to Letterman or Kimmel or maybe just to bed early? Sure. But does it really matter, in this current television climate? We’re not so sure.

Also, it’s important to remember that NBC is a moribund enterprise right now. And while that may initially lead one to think that they should keep the one thing that seems to be working, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, we think the opposite is true. So much is dysfunctional at NBC right now that it might be worth it to blow the whole thing up. When you’re routinely getting smacked around by the likes of Univision and AMC and USA (NBC’s own less glamorous, but often more successful cable cousin), why not cut off your perfectly fine nose to spite your brutally beaten face? In a television landscape where numbers mean less and less, NBC, more than any other of the big four networks needs to get creative and change the paradigm. Putting Jay on at 10pm four years ago was changing the game the other way, backward thinking in trying to keep old viewers while embracing new, trying to maximize value under the old model. Moving Fallon to the big chair is looking the other way, trying to stay head of the curve. Why be a slave to the old design, why cling to some antiquated rule that The Tonight Show needs to be in Los Angeles and why keep struggling against the Leno albatross? In a television world where late night talk shows are increasingly irrelevant, why not take a shot a true irreverence? Really, what does NBC have to lose?

Some light background reading:

Conan: Barbarian or Adventurer?

In Defense of Jay Leno/How He Might Screw This All Up AKA More Thoughts on Late Shift 2: Dave’s Revenge

The One in Which We Compare Conan O’Brien to Barack Obama

*Really, what does Bill Carter report on other than late night talk show behind-the-scenes machinations? Can we get his job if and when he retires? We don’t even mind signing a contract stipulating that we will inherit his position in five years or else be paid a steep pay or play penalty).

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Count Bleh, Flashback!, Must Flee TV, Other people's stuff, Talkies

On the Olympics: Testing Our Medal

We’ve recently returned from a week-long sojourn to a tropical paradise, and thus were unable to commit the 10-12 hours a day we hoped watching the NBC Networks Olympic coverage of events like water polo, handball, indoor volleyball, ping-pong (sorry, table tennis), field hockey and trap shooting.  We were, however, able to catch part of NBC’s prime time telecasts, the carefully cultivated, perfectly orchestrated alchemy of prestigious events of which the Americans just happen to win the majority.  And if you think watching NBC’s tape delay broadcasts here in America is tough, try doing it twenty miles (or was it kilometers?) from Venezuela.

Upset about the admittedly completely unnecessary and pedantic Mary Carillo explains London segments? Fine.  But better than coverage not starting til 9pm EST and then finding the telecast constantly interrupted by an unknown Aruban man in a desolate, sad locker room set, serving as something of a local Bob Costas amid open lockers and prop gym bags.  Even worse is that these interstitials preempted the commercials.  The Olympics is the Super Bowl of commercials.  Normally we’d prefer to fast-forward right through all of them, but if we had our choice of watching a random guy pontificate about Michael Phelps in Papiamento or watching every single McDonald’s commercial, we’d choose the latter.  At least the second option gives us a the chance for a sports celebrity cameo, or a catchy jingle, or, God willing, a new Happy Meal Toy.  Or we could just use that time to visit the bathroom or get a snack, but, instead, while Aruban Bob Costas chats with the small island’s foremost track and field expert, we flip over to Lifetime to see if Forrest Gump is still on, not sure how long this detour from London is going to last (which, we admit, is a very specific experience, so we apologize if this particular situation does not apply to you).

Okay, so we’re exaggerating here.  It really wasn’t that bad.  But neither is watching the main events on tape delay here in the contiguous US of A, despite all the caustic vitriol  spat at NBC over its delayed gratification approach to the games.  What the people who level all the criticism at NBC for withholding the most interesting (to Americans) events til after 8pm (and, really, til 11pm) don’t seem to consider, or put much stock in to, is that most Americans (save for those who are currently employed and spend most of their day watching Razon Ramon documentaries producing high quality journalism and insightful media criticism), aren’t home at 2pm to watch the entirety of the Tween Women’s Uneven Bars final.  That doesn’t mean that NBC couldn’t cling to journalistic integrity, demonstrate a responsibility to delivering unfiltered, untainted Olympics coverage, and air the whole event live.  But then what?  Rebroadcast it again later?  In its entirety?  Or in repeats is it permissible to edit the events down?  And does NBC, even with its seemingly infinite cadre of cable channels, have the airtime to show the same competition twice?  On the other hand, if they air everything in real-time, what does NBC show in prime-time?  Grimm repeats?  Rock Center: Live from Westminster Abbey?  Start the Tonight Show three hours early?  No.  Make no mistake, NBC has not spent billions of dollars securing the rights to the Olympics to present sports in the most comprehensive, informative, honest and fan-friendly way.  They’re in it for the same reason ESPN is (despite what its acronym might imply), to make gobs and boatloads and gobloads of money.  Let’s not forget that.

And let’s not hold that against them.  For NBC, the Olympics is a two-week-long special edition of America’s Got Talent (Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) and The Biggest Loser (Mckayla Maroney, any country other than the USA).  It’s the marketing push Whitney really needed.  And to suggest that NBC has some responsibility to the American citizen not to present the most popular events in the most melodramatic, heavily-edited, Al Trautwig-hosted, Cinderella-story way is silly, and, really, hypocritical.  Yank all 10pm dramas in favor of Jay Leno, shame on NBC.  Expect NBC not to value Olympic ratings above all else, shame on you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Across the pond, Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Matt Christopher Books, Must See TV