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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

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ltkell908 February 17 2014 at 12:52 PM

I've been a fan of The Tonight show since the mid-sixties...Conan drove me away for a while...went over to Lettermen...don't really care for him much....was glad to see Leno come back. Now it's you, Jimmy Fallon. I know your aim is probably going to be the younger 40's and below crowd, but remember your time slot. Most of your Late Night group are out partying and doing the town. You'll still have the over 40 group, which includes my 60-70 crowd. Please don't chase us over to Lettermen again. Mr. Carson always had good guests and let them entertertain us more than himself. He also kept the political jokes to a minimum and made fun of both the Republicans and the Democrats equally. Better to stay away from politics as much as possible if you don't want to limit your audience. Good Luck...I'll watch you ...at least for a while. Thank You, A lifer tonight show fan!

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1 reply
blackcoffeeparty ltkell908 February 17 2014 at 1:07 PM

Come on who is more fun to make jokes about than that bunch of frat brat elitist clowns in Washington?

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The Cat February 17 2014 at 1:29 PM

ONLY TIME WILL TELL! I LIKED JAY AND HIS MONOLOGUES FALLON HOPEFULLY WILL LENGTHEN HIS BECAUSE IF HE DOES NOT HIS TENURE WILL BE A SHORT ONE

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1 reply
Isatie The Cat February 17 2014 at 1:35 PM

I agree CAT............I just don't like FALLON.............seems to be hard press..I don't know...but I still say...FALLON won't make it.

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thomtronics February 17 2014 at 6:50 PM

GOOD LUCK & GOD BLESS!!

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phyllis862 February 17 2014 at 4:21 PM

I loved Johnny Carson and Jay leno did a great job lets not put him down. I think he might be back

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kg4eoe February 17 2014 at 4:21 PM

Leno didn,t have the respect of his audience? Why do you say that when he was number one for so many years? I won't be watching the show unless and until Fallon stops talking over his guests. His voice is bad enough without having to decern what he says as a guest egts talked over.

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mulenecks February 17 2014 at 2:59 PM

Steve Allen should at least have a mention.........just sayin.....

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Don & Kathy February 17 2014 at 2:54 PM

So Mr. Moore thinks the show "languished" after Carson left? I have news for him; consistently pulling in the highest ratings for your time slot isn't "languishing"! He needs to break open & actual dictionary & not just spell-check.

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lgvxl42 February 17 2014 at 1:21 PM

I've got a couple questions for my fellow posters..........1. I'm wondering if the NBC folks read these posts? If so, surely they must be having "buyers remorse" so to speak...........2. Is FOX pursuing Jay for a possible show?

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1 reply
woodguy1063 lgvxl42 February 17 2014 at 1:41 PM

Why would they have remorse?- Fallon is going to do great, he's 10 times funnier than lame Jay. Jay is so lame- Fox can have him. He's horrible.

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Tom February 17 2014 at 1:25 PM

Looking forward to Jimmy; I didn't care for Leno, stopped watching Letterman, so I'm hoping Fallon will give new life to late night tv.

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HYMAN STRUM February 17 2014 at 1:26 PM

Looking forward forTonight! Ithink he's the right guy.

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