Good for Jimmy Fallon for his clever and very smart debut last night as the new host of the Tonight Show. Good for him for bringing it back to New York. Good for NBC for letting him. Finally, I have a reason to check out a late-night talk show again, because finally — while no one will ever top Johnny Carson in the gig — a worthy successor has been found.
I’ve always had the sense that Fallon, — like Carson — genuinely likes and is entertained by his guests, and he has Carson’s instinct to “make the guest look good”. Also, Fallon (again like Carson) is interested is more than himself, and that’s a good thing. People forget it, because it’s been a while, but one interesting thing about Johnny Carson’s show was that it was always about more than some star with a new movie or album to plug. Because he was interested in many things, he’d have astronomers on the show — or opera singers, or writers, or jazzmen, or old ladies who collected potato chips — and he trusted that his audience would be interested, too.
And he was right about that. It’s part of what made him great; he respected his audience’s ability to appreciate many things.
Enter, Jimmy Fallon, who I suspect has many of Carson’s strengths, and his broad enthusiasms, but seems to lack the dark personal baggage. Plus he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously.
Jay Leno was okay, but he often talked over his guests and made it about him. Ditto Conan O’Brian, although I like him a lot. David Letterman has become an unwatchable, sour old crank who isn’t interested in anyone and doesn’t appear to trust or even like his audience. I really think Jimmy Fallon, will be the closest thing to the Tonight Show in its heyday. He might even be a throwback, past Carson, to Steve Allen — a smart, talented man who could guide a great conversation and then turn around and order Chinese Food for everyone, because he was feeling hungry of a moment.
Here are two great bits from last night. Fallon being paid off by everyone who ever bet him $100 that he’d never host the show, and a “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dance” with Will Smith.
Glommed on to the Fallon photo above from this site and, having now read the accompanying piece, am happy to see that others are thinking along very similar lines!:
[Leno and Letterman] each…conjured an aspect of Johnny Carson: the slightly befuddled Middle American decency (Jay), the cutting detachment (Dave). What both missed — and what Jimmy Fallon has — is the devil-may-care twinkle of debonair nonchalance that bridges those two qualities.
Just so. Read the whole thing.