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A new 'Tonight' dawns with Jimmy Fallon as host


NEW YORK (AP) - On the walls of Jimmy Fallon's office are photos. Lots of photos. Of his 2007 marriage to film producer Nancy Juvonen. Of their 6-month-old daughter, Winnie. Of his mom and dad as newlyweds. Fallon points them all out to a visitor proudly.

But the dominant photo is a portrait of Johnny Carson, aglow in front of his "Tonight Show" drapes.

"I look at that every day," says Fallon, "and just go, 'Yeah - it's SO fun!'"

Already Fallon is immersed in this kind of fun. For five years he hosted NBC's "Late Night," a job he relinquished only days ago. And now he's looking ahead to the Big Show, "The Tonight Show," where Monday, at the special time of 12 midnight EST, he retrieves Carson's mantle - back in New York after 42 years in Los Angeles.

"It's giant! It's a big TV moment!" says Fallon. "Even if it wasn't me, I would tune in to watch."

A Manhattan home base perfectly suits its new host, a consummate New Yorker, while bringing it under the same hallowed roof (NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters) as "Late Night" and "Saturday Night Live," other jewels in the crown of Lorne Michaels, its new executive producer.

It also allows "Tonight" to make a clean break from its turbulent post-Carson era under Jay Leno (and, fleetingly, Conan O'Brien), when the Carson-bequeathed formula of jokes, celebs and chitchat was, too often, upstaged by behind-the-scenes soap opera.

Leno was consistently the late-night ratings winner, but never won much respect from the public, critics, or even his own network, which twice sent him packing from "Tonight."

Back in New York, where both "The Tonight Show" and Carson as its host made their start, this 60-year-old TV institution is poised to pick up the legend from where it languished after Carson's 1992 retirement.

The show will even recommission that sacred space - Studio 6B - where Carson reigned before his 1972 move west.

"I wish Johnny Carson was still around, so he could see what we did with his studio," says Fallon. "I can't WAIT to show everybody!"

But even as the 39-year-old waxes eagerness about the new "Tonight Show," he wants everyone to know it won't really be so different, after all: essentially an hour-earlier "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," including its house band, the Roots (though this eight-piece ensemble will expand by two horns), its announcer-sidekick, Steve Higgins, and comic bits like "Slow Jam the News" and "Thank-you Notes."

"When we started 'Late Night,' we were DOING 'Late Night,'" Fallon explains, "but over five years it's kind of grown, and blossomed into what it became, which is 'The Tonight Show.' We grew into it!"

Fallon first became popular during his six years on "Saturday Night Live," where he displayed a chameleonic range of characters and impersonations, plus a musicality that grants him uncanny skill at mimicking numerous recording stars.

His 2004 departure from "SNL" to pursue a film career didn't pan out, particularly with the comedy flop "Taxi," in which he co-starred with Queen Latifah (who now has her own talk show, in daytime).

"I learned a lesson from that movie," he says. "I definitely appreciate everything I get now, where I probably wouldn't have if that movie was a giant hit. I'm kind of happy that my film career didn't take off."

Now a TV staple, Fallon declares that he's developed "a voice that people expect from us."

What is that voice?

"Fun. Nice. Absurd," he says reflectively. A thoughtful pause, then a laugh. "I'm still working on the list."

His key strength as host boils down to his unflagging engagement, says "Tonight Show" producer Josh Lieb.

"He's got genuine empathy for his guests and for the audience," he said. "He's trying to give them the best of himself.

"He is the most inclusive comic I've ever known," adds Lieb, whose credits include "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and the sitcom "NewsRadio." ''Some comics want to shut the audience out. Jimmy really wants to bring the whole world in on the joke."

Fallon is also up for anything, and his guests seem chill about following his lead. Like when he and tough-guy action-film star Jason Statham doused each other with pitchers of water during a card game called Water War.

"I'm not afraid to get wet," says Fallon, chortling at the memory. "I'm not afraid to get messy."

It seems to be paying off. Note that charter "Late Night" host David Letterman held that post for more than a decade before launching "Late Show" (now Fallon's CBS rival at 11:35 p.m.). O'Brien labored 15 long years before his short-lived promotion to "Tonight."

Now, after only a five-year internship, Fallon has graduated to what's repeatedly, momentously, hopefully described as his "last job."

"That's what it SHOULD be," he nods. "It's a great job, and it should be the last job, if you do it right. I'm looking forward to being here a long time!"

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choochstuff February 18 2014 at 8:56 AM

It's funny reading everyone's opinions! It reminds me one night when I was drinking, and I had had enough of everyone's opinion in the bar, so I decided to head out back to the stables and get a real opinion, as my grand-dad used to say, "from the horses mouth"!!!...

All was going quit well until the horse passed gas, and I realized that, "I was at the WRONG END OF THE HORSE!

Mr. Fallon is going to bring this thing home BIG-TIME!!! (hide and watch!)

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Herb February 18 2014 at 8:20 AM

All the hosts' were great in their own way. I have been watching since before Steve Allen. Jerry Lester Broadway open house. Steve was the most talented but Jimmy Fallen is is closest to him.

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artdmainman February 18 2014 at 3:47 AM

I looked at Fallon for the first 1/2 hour, and all I can say is for his first night, I give it a grade D+. I'll give it a few more day's to see what happens. But I see Jimmy Kimmel in the #1 spot for the late night talk show king.

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abcstarfox 2013 February 18 2014 at 12:09 AM

I see that no matter what goes down, everyone keeps saying
THEY ARE NOT CARSON. None of them are /were
trying to be.

Let them be who they are. They are all good in their own way.
No one is forcing you to watch any of them. Just don't make them
the ememy....GET THE MESSAGE.

It is not any of them. the enemy is idiot COMCAST (nbc).

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rookwood2 February 18 2014 at 12:09 AM

"Leno was consistently the late-night ratings winner, but never won much respect from the public.....". Who do they think made Jay a ratings winner? A bad article by a NBC lover.

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1 reply to rookwood2's comment
sgvette February 18 2014 at 1:28 AM

Yeah, Leno was "sent packing twice?" Very biased article with an agenda.

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Jess and Darlene February 17 2014 at 11:54 PM

I know the person who wrote this article is a dam liberal. Leno will be missed. and he just
might return.

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1 reply to Jess and Darlene's comment
pacocoyote February 19 2014 at 12:52 AM


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aoversier February 17 2014 at 11:39 PM

This comes under the heading of "who cares" ?

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1 reply to aoversier's comment
abcstarfox 2013 February 17 2014 at 11:54 PM

Well, if you took the time to pull up the story and post,
apparently........YOU DO.

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MOOSERPA February 17 2014 at 11:37 PM

the tonight show is over for sure . I mean , I like Jimmy Fallon , he is funny to some degree, but he will never be johnny carson or the even the great Jay Leno. Jay had a very unique way of mingling with everyone . Jay Leno had a personality that just made him simply likeable , a person you wanted to see succeed . NBC sucks period . I will not support NBC . I think it was shameful and very disrespectful how they ousted Jay Leno . Go to HELL NBC !!! I am so glad that there are so many other channels I have to watch and never turn on NBC again !!!!

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1 reply to MOOSERPA's comment
richherm2d February 19 2014 at 12:40 AM

You stated it like it was and is. Banging eggs on his head (JF), thanking LA for giving the Tonight Show back to New York (you mean we had a choice; just like NBC which is now Comcast (you should see what they have done to NBC4LA; the new Pres. copied everything he did in Utah by firing 8 well known and competent news personalities without thinking it might not work here); an insincere interviewer, etc. Jay was truly a genuine Tonight Show host, Fallon couldn't even be serious about three Winter Olympians; likened them to gross characters. No wonder NBC has fallen behind ABC; NBC/Comcast Mgmt. get a clue!
It is obvious, you have written off a quality NBC4 network. With this kind of work, we here in Orange County have more to worry about when it comes to a potential Comcast/Times Warner Merger (look out Times Warner personnel; all of us will suffer with higher costs and I worry about your jobs; write your Congress person and say NO to this merger). Thanks MOOSERPA for stating it like it is!

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Dr. J February 17 2014 at 11:30 PM

I hope Jimmy is as successful here in the Post-Carson Late-Night World as Jay was, but AOL made one error in the story: While the critics never gave Jay his due, the ratings prove he was ALWAYS welcomed by the public, far more than those show-business scumbuckets who tried to steal the chair from him(Yeah, Letterman and O'Brien, I'm talking about YOU!). NTM stars were far more eager to line up to be on Jay than anyone else. I'm hoping it continues with the new show. Good Luck, Jimmy!

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rookwood2 February 18 2014 at 12:06 AM

"Leno was consistently the late-night ratings winner, but never won much respect from the public...". Are you kidding me? Who do they think made Jay the ratings winner? Bad article by an NBC lover.

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remove aol black February 17 2014 at 11:23 PM

Sorry but I like J a lot better, Fallon just cant take. I would like for J to be back on.

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Dr. J February 17 2014 at 11:32 PM

A lot of us would, but NBC is still trying to screw itself into the ground for reasons I can't fathom(insurance fraud, maybe?). Why else would they cancel so many of their own good shows?

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