Saturday, March 22, 2014

'With' vs 'Starring': Fallon's "Tonight Show"

I would like to take a minute to speak positively about something I haven't spoken positively about in five years: The Tonight Show, and more to the point... its shiny new host.

For a long time I did not like Jimmy Fallon. I, like many others, could not stand how he constantly laughed at his own jokes on SNL. But when he took over Late Night, he really started to find himself. He made that show equally as great as Conan and Letterman did, while simultaneously making it a completely original program.

It was for this reason I became thrilled when it was announced he would be the second man to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Now, those who know me know I don't have many kind words left to say about Mr. Leno. I used to, but I was outraged by his actions during the 2010 Tonight Show battle. I was then, and forever will be on Team Coco. When Leno returned to The Tonight Show, I removed myself from its viewership. I successfully, and proudly, boycotted the Tonight Show, not watching more than a passing clip of it for the past five years. I also made sure I was planted on the couch for Fallon's first episode.

It's been almost a month since he took over, and Jimmy's Tonight Show has done nothing but top itself night after night. Have I been on the couch every night? No...but I have usually watched most of each episode online the next day. The last two nights, especially last Thursday night with Billy Joel, has confirmed what I had been starting to feel all month: Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show were made for each other.

 You'll notice, that the title of his show goes back to what Carson and Parr used: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon". Both of Leno's incarnations, as well as Conan's Tonight Show, used the title: "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno/ Conan O'Brien". I think that couldn't be more appropriate. I liked Jay's first show. I did. But I, while not alive for most almost all of Carson's show, have seen Johnny behind the desk and know why his name holds the respect it does. Neither Jay nor Conan's show was remotely the same. Jay participated in the Tonight Show...he took care of it for a good long time...but he did not star in it. Jay had some funny bits, but he was never outright funny. In stand-up? Maybe, but not on The Tonight Show. His show was much more about the guests than it was the host.  As for O'Brien, I'm still on Team Conan. I have also come to realize that he was never made to be the host of The Tonight Show. Conan's Tonight Show was a bit more focused on the host, but given his short tenure, and his unfortunate departure, I think the "with" is appropriate for him as well.

Now Jimmy...Jimmy is unquestionably "starring" in his Tonight Show. Take this Thursday night's episode for example. When Billy Joel began to sing "You May Be Right", Fallon all but took over the number. I didn't mind at all, the audience didn't mind at all, and Billy certainly didn't look like he minded at all as Jimmy proceeded to lay on his piano, dance in front of him, and practically sing the whole damn song.

I feel very confidently that Fallon, assuming he continues to produce the quality show he has been this month...and for the last five years on Late Night...will still be behind The Tonight Show's desk a few decades down the line. I certainly want him to be, and if you haven't been watching it yet, you should. I promise you'll have a great time. I acknowledge the legacy and the prestige that comes with the title of The Tonight Show, and that is all thanks to Carson. It's true: there will never be another Johnny Carson. But who knows. Give him twenty or thirty years and we may very well be sitting here saying "Man...there will never be another Jimmy Fallon."

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