Younger crowd falling for Fallon on 'The Tonight Show'
Last week, Jimmy Fallon did his first show replacing Jay Leno as the new host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show.” Building off a strong lead-in audience from NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Fallon’s first week was very successful, averaging 8.5 million viewers a night and making it the franchise’s most-watched week in 20 years.
Fallon’s new edition of “The Tonight Show” will be far different from Leno’s. NBC wants to appeal to a younger demographic, and Fallon is tailor-made to do that. It’s already apparent from the first week that the show will closely mirror Fallon’s previous NBC venture, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Leno excelled in his monologues and his interviews, but Fallon is more of a jack-of-all-trades entertainer. Monologues and interviews will of course still be a part of the show, but they aren’t his strengths. He’s a former “Saturday Night Live” performer, and thus his strengths fall in musical bits, improvisation and sketch comedy. If this first week of shows is any indication, that’s what audiences will get.
The most notable segments came in the form of the dance number “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” with Will Smith, the song “History of Rap” with Justin Timberlake and the sketch in which Fallon interviewed Kristin Wiig, who impersonated One Direction singer Harry Styles. He also had Jerry Seinfeld perform stand-up, interviewed Michelle Obama and played charades with Bradley Cooper, Emma Thompson and Tim McGraw.
Celebrities love Fallon, and that much was apparent right away. His popularity extends beyond just Hollywood, as politician Rudy Giuliani, musician Lady Gaga, talk-show host Joan Rivers, boxer Mike Tyson and late-night competitor Stephen Colbert were among a multitude of celebrities who appeared in Fallon’s inaugural episode to pay tribute to the host.
Worth noting is that Fallon’s show is projected to feature fewer political guests than Leno’s did. Deadline recently noted a poll that revealed Leno averaged three times as many political guests than Fallon did. Given the low regard in which the American people currently hold the government, audiences probably won’t lose sleep over seeing fewer politicians and more celebrities.
With the prevalence of YouTube and social media in today’s pop culture conversation, Fallon’s propensity to produce viral content will serve both him and NBC well. The network likely chose Fallon in part because it wants to start appealing to a younger demographic, and viral content is a big part of that. Interviews and monologues are necessary for late night shows, but they don’t hold nearly as much potential to consistently go viral. However, segments like “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” do, and Fallon has already had multiple hits. His segments all go up on the show’s YouTube channel, and many of them have eclipsed a million views.
With the Winter Olympics coming to a close, Fallon will no longer receive the ratings boost from the lead-in audience. In past “Tonight Show” debuts, such as that of Conan O’Brien in 2009, ratings dipped after the first episode, but Fallon’s rose. The upcoming weeks will be a much better indicator of how the show is doing.
And possibly the most notable thing about this new edition of “The Tonight Show” is that it has returned to New York City for the first time since 1972. Made possible by a slightly controversial tax break, NBC was able to bring the show back to the Big Apple after more than 40 years in Southern California.
Fallon is a NYC native and did well to pay homage to the city. He had Spike Lee film the show’s introduction, which features glorious shots of iconic locations such as City Hall, Grand Central Terminal and the Rockefeller Center. His new set is a pristine Manhattan backdrop with gold buildings. The show doesn’t just take place in New York, it feels like New York, too.
“If you guys let me stick around long enough,” Fallon said in his opening monologue, “maybe I’ll get the hang of it.”
So far, so good for the Brooklyn native. It looks like he’s here to stay.