Jimmy Fallon off to fast start on 'Tonight'

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Jimmy Fallon off to fast start on 'Tonight'
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0025 -- Pictured: After Jimmy announces that The Tonight Show has banned dancing, actor Kevin Bacon breaks the rules with an epic entrance on March 21, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0025 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Kevin Bacon during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on March 21, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Billy Joel joins Jimmy Fallon during a taping of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" at Rockefeller Center on March 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon")
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0024 -- Pictured: (l-r) Chelsea Clinton during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on March 20, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC)..
FILE- In this Feb. 20, 2014 photo provided by NBC, host Jimmy Fallon applauds first lady Michelle Obama on the set of ?The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,? in New York. Aside from Fallon wanting to do the show in New York City, NBC could have viewed a 30 percent tax break as incentive to bring the show back from the West Coast after 40 years. The tax credit, designed to lure certain types of programming to New York, can potentially save the network $20 million dollars a year. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop, File)
This image released by NBC shows host Jimmy Fallon, right, and actress Shailene Woodley playing a game of Double Turtleneck Ping Pong, Wednesday, March 12, 2014 during a taping of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," in New York. Woodley appeared on the show to promote her new film, "Divergent." (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
"The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon, center, exits the water during the Chicago Polar Plunge, Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Chicago. Fallon joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the event. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
In this image released by NBC, Will Smith, left, and host Jimmy Fallon act out the evolution of hip-hop dancing on the premiere of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," in New York. One month in, and NBC?s generational trade of Jay Leno for Jimmy Fallon at the ?Tonight? show is succeeding beyond the dreams of network honchos. Fallon?s fast start is clear in television ratings and even more so in social media metrics. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
This Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 photo released by NBC shows comedian Jerry Seinfeld, left, with host Jimmy Fallon during "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," in New York. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
This image released by NBC shows Seth Meyers, left, receiving a giant plastic pickle prop by host Jimmy Fallon during an appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in New York. The pickle was presented to Fallon back in 2009 by Conan O'Brien, who was the previous host of the late night talk show. O'Brien received the pickle after inheriting the show from David Letterman in 1993. Meyers will host the new late night show on February 24, and Fallon will become host of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," premiering February 17. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
This Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 photo released by NBC shows host Jimmy Fallon, second right, with Anthony David Miles, left, Tom Shillue, and Chris Tartaro, right, of The Ragtime Gals performing a rendition of R. Kelly's "Ignition," during "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," in New York. (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Lena Dunham and Jimmy Fallon during a taping of "The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon" at Rockefeller Center on March 18, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon")
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0023 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Greg Kinnear during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0022 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Hugh Dancy during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on March 18, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0021 -- Pictured: Kermit The Frog on March 17, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: James Franco and Jimmy Fallon during a taping of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon">> at Rockefeller Center on March 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon")
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NEW YORK (AP) - One month in, NBC's generational trade of Jay Leno for Jimmy Fallon at the "Tonight" show is succeeding beyond the hopes of executives who engineered it.

Fallon's fast start is clear in television ratings and even more stark in social media metrics. While too early to declare a new king of late-night TV, the transition is a marked change from how badly NBC fumbled the short-lived switch from Leno to Conan O'Brien in 2009.

"As a guy who's been doing this for 36 years, I don't allow myself to think about this level of success," said Ted Harbert, NBC broadcasting chairman. NBC had hoped for an increase in young viewers and steeled itself to lose some of Leno's older fans, but Fallon's reception was a surprise.

When Fallon premiered on "Tonight" during the Olympics, the franchise hit numbers unseen since Johnny Carson's last week in 1992. Things have settled down but Fallon is still comfortably on top. During the week of March 10-14, Fallon averaged 4.26 million viewers to Jimmy Kimmel's 2.83 million on ABC and David Letterman's 2.78 million on CBS, the Nielsen company said. Fallon has consistently topped the 4.1 million viewers that Leno averaged this season before leaving.

Fallon's lead over his rivals is more pronounced among viewers aged 18-to-49, the demographic NBC bases its advertising sales upon.

Fallon and NBC embrace the way many early-to-bed consumers experience late-night television these days: by watching clips of a show's best moments online. The YouTube clip of Fallon and Will Smith acting out the evolution of hip-hop dancing has been seen more than 12.8 million times. Fallon's lip-sync duel with Paul Rudd on songs by Tina Turner, Foreigner and Queen has nearly 9 million views.

Other popular clips show Fallon, singer Idina Menzel and the Roots performing "Let it Go" with children's instruments and the sliced-and-diced version of newsmen Brian Williams and Lester Holt on "Rapper's Delight."

Each segment is funny, good-natured and utterly impossible to imagine Fallon's old-school predecessor doing.

"What I notice in people's reactions is not just that they like the show and think that it's funny, but they like the feel-good spirit," Harbert said. "There's a total absence of snarkiness, of cynicism. It's just there to make you feel good before you go to sleep."

The anti-show biz style pioneered by Letterman isn't dead, said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. But "it may have run its course to some extent," he said, and Fallon's sincerity dilutes the pure snark of Letterman and O'Brien.

"Fallon has been able to change the equation," he said. He's made his mark despite a more crowded competitive landscape, with O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler and Arsenio Hall also mining late-night laughs.

During his first month, Fallon generated more than 120 million hits in social media, including Twitter and Facebook posts, and, most prominently, YouTube video views, the research firm RelishMIX said. That's more than double Kimmel, who has 57 million hits. Letterman has 2.3 million hits.

"That lopsidedness is a huge wake-up call to writers, producers of late-night, network marketing departments and other series in all genres that they must 'feed the beast' or die," said Marc Karzen, RelishMIX spokesman.

Aggressive online exposure was a key part of NBC's launch strategy, which included timing Fallon's takeover to coincide with heavy viewer interest in the Winter Olympics, Harbert said. The next step is to find ways to make more money off all that online interest, he said.

Fallon's rivals haven't backed down from the competition. Kimmel got attention during the Winter Olympics for filming a stunt that jokingly suggested a wolf was roaming the halls of a dorm for athletes. With their youthful appeal (Fallon is 39, Kimmel 46), the two men seem primed for a bicoastal rivalry.

Letterman, during an appearance in January at Howard Stern's birthday bash, said Leno's departure wouldn't affect how long he wanted to keep working.

"I would do it forever if it were up to me," he said, before adding a wry aside: "Sometimes, it isn't up to me."

Judging by one of television's most prominent measuring sticks for likability, Fallon's success shouldn't be a surprise. He has a "Q'' score of 19 among viewers aged 18 to 34 - which means 19 percent of people familiar with him consider Fallon one of their favorite personalities, said the company Marketing Evaluations Inc., which polled consumers both before and after the "Tonight" takeover. Kimmel's score was 16 and Letterman's 11, the company said (an average celebrity "Q'' score is 17).

Among young men, Fallon's score shoots up to 24, said company spokesman Henry Schafer. More people that age know who Fallon is than know Letterman, he said.

For older viewers, the graciousness of Leno, 63, during the transition was crucial, Harbert said.

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