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A new 'Tonight' dawns with Jimmy Fallon as host



By FRAZIER MOORE

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!"


Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Dot February 17 2014 at 4:00 PM

I am not fond of NBC's choices in most all programs and shows. Really bored with the "thank you" notes. Whether Leno is 'right' or 'left', I will follow his show and I prefer that he move to Fox!

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JOHN February 17 2014 at 3:33 PM

My memory goes back, way before Johnny Carson, to Jack Parr and Stave Allen. It may not have been called "The Tonight Show" but it was the same format and time slot.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
nfhamden February 17 2014 at 3:31 PM

I'll miss Jay! I guess I can go to bed earlier now!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
9RRs February 17 2014 at 3:24 PM

Bring back Jay.. screw new Era!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
GARY 9RRs February 17 2014 at 3:37 PM

Agree 100%

Flag Reply 0 rate up
mgvros February 17 2014 at 1:00 PM

Jimmy, when you first sit in the chair... you should do it the same way Ferris did when he first sat in the Ferrari!!! Congrats, and wishing you a wonderful show!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
guywtr5 February 17 2014 at 3:22 PM

Mr. Moore, you don't have an f--ing clue. Let's see if Fallon can "languish" for 20 years in the number one spot. Jay has all the respect in the world from the public which could give a crap about the critics and the network who have their own respect and credability problems. Thanks for your input.

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noel February 17 2014 at 1:03 PM

I would like to see some guests that are NOT promoting anything like Carson did. Just to have them on the show. It seems like everyone is singing their own song to get on. How about just some nice clean guests who are talkable and work good with Fallon. And a group or singer at the end of show that you can understand and NOT blasted out by the background band

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Jim February 17 2014 at 1:03 PM

I was a piano player in an NYC bar for years. One loooong, slow night, around 3AM, he came in and sang a song with me. ("Mustang Sally.") There were about 6 customers in the place, and he still gave it 101%. I have never seen a performer with such energy, before or since. LOL, he even did the "swim" on one of those little round tables while he sang. No wonder he's such a success - he gives his all, all the time. Good luck Mr. Fallon!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
gordonius February 17 2014 at 3:13 PM

The tonight show languished since 1992? really? If the writer doesn't like Leno then fine but the show lead the ratings for that time period. That is poorly worded or poor commentary.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
waltgekko gordonius February 17 2014 at 3:19 PM

Leno was only winning in the ratings because Dave was severely hurt when shortly after his CBS show began, CBS lost the NFC package of the NFL to FOX when FOX bid a then-obscene amount. The loss of the NFL cost CBS many affiliates that bolted for FOX (most notably Detroit) and CBS in those cities either didn't exist or was on a channel that could not be gotten easily. Couple that with a weak prime time lineup for several years while Jay had NBC's famed "Must See TV" lineup of the late 1990's-early 2000's and that's why Jay won.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
tokobali gordonius February 17 2014 at 3:19 PM

both, and an udeserved slur on Mr. Leno...

Flag Reply +1 rate up
redriders134occ February 17 2014 at 3:12 PM

Oh bye the way?The jackass that keeps putting on the big money and stay at home is another one of them scam sites .Yeah make money while at home on the crapper !!!!!!90 bucks and hour ?work for The happy hooker!!!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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