After a nearly 42-year absence, the prodigal "Tonight Show" returned home Monday night, with a new host, Jimmy Fallon, and one emphatic nod or two to its celebrated history and setting.
New York didn't take just center stage, but at times the whole stage, with a rousing U2 performance of "Invisible" on the 70th floor roof of the GE Building with the full expanse of Manhattan to the south as the setting.
A 21-second black-and-white photo montage directed by Spike Lee opened the show. The montage of famous New York locales morphed into color when the montage ended at 30 Rock.
Meanwhile, Studio 6B, where Johnny Carson hosted the show for a decade before taking it to Burbank in 1972, had undergone a dramatic overhaul, with the centerpiece a 3-D model of the Manhattan skyline behind the host's desk and guest chairs.
"I'm Jimmy Fallon," he deadpanned. "I'll be your host -- for now." He thanked predecessor Jay Leno twice, adding, "I honestly don't know how I got here." Fallon then offered a nod to his upbringing in upstate Saugerties, and to his parents, Jim and Gloria, who were in the audience. "I wish I could have gotten you better seats," he said.
His monologue ran 11:52, nearly a quarter of the show, beginning with "I'll make fun of everybody so you can go to bed with a smile on your face."
Fallon was a familiar, comfortable presence whose first-night humor seemed modulated carefully to play to the middle of the country. "The U.S. men's hockey team beat the Russians over the weekend," he joked. "The American team was thrilled with the win; the Russian team is missing."
In one extended bit, he joked that the person who had bet him $100 that he would never be named "Tonight Show" host was in the studio to pay up.
Out walked Robert DeNiro, who laid down a bill on the host's desk. (DeNiro had made the bet on Fallon's 100th "Late Night.") DeNiro was followed by others who had presumably made the same bet, including Tina Fey, Joe Namath and Lindsay Lohan.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani also walked out, telling Fallon, "Thank you for bringing the show back."
Joan Rivers also appeared; she had been famously boycotted by Carson years ago when she went to Fox after serving as his longtime substitute host.
Finally, Stephen Colbert paid up in pennies, saying, "Welcome to 11:30, [expletive]."
First guest Will Smith had no movie to plug but instead performed a skit with Fallon and offered this bit of reassurance: "I was watching all of the people come to support you. People are coming to you. They're coming because of your heart."