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Questions, answers about Leno, 'Tonight,' Fallon ...

Jimmy Fallon appears on "The Tonight Show with

Jimmy Fallon appears on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on Sept. 2, 2004. (Credit: Getty Images)

As usual, you, dear reader, have come to the right blog for questions -- and answers -- about the huge late-night TV transition that took place Wednesday involving Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and the single most prestigious, famous, legendary, storied franchise on all of television: "The Tonight Show."

Let's get straight to them, shall we -- with an asterisk firmly attached: These are all educated thoughts, based on hunches, a few years of following this business and sheer unadulterated guesswork.

First question as in all massive TV transitions ...

Who wins?

The biggest winner out of all this is Lorne Michaels, who has now consolidated virtually the entire late-night kingdom on a few floors at 30 Rock. He not only controls "Saturday Night Live," but "Late Night" and now "Tonight." It's a remarkable legacy for a remarkable career ...

Who else wins?

That's right -- there's more than one winner and that would be New York City -- the greatest city in the world and now, or soon, home to the greatest franchise on TV -- again.

Can a big -- 350 seats! -- TV talk show operation operate efficiently and effectively these days in the city?

Not a bad question because Johnny (Carson) did leave for points west for a number of reasons, including the fact that he had started to complain about drawing good audiences to the old Studio 6B where Jimmy Fallon and Dave Letterman have held forth over many years -- aah, Conan O'Brien, too. In fact, David Letterman has answered this question at the Ed Sullivan -- of course you can draw a big vital and energetic crowd. New York is a tourist mecca and was not back in the very early '70s ...

Is Jay Leno happy about the transition?

No. He says he is, but he is not. Jay would have liked to have gone until at least 25 seasons, maybe even 30. There is no diminution of energy on his part, and he has an enormous sense of pride and he is extremely loyal to his staff -- who will be out of work by this time next year (maybe not out of work, but not working on "The Tonight Show").  This has to be a very difficult and bitter moment for him: Jay wanted to go out on his own terms, like Johnny before him. Instead, he was shown the door for a second time ... humiliating.

Will the Roots come with Fallon to "Tonight" and will Steve Higgins?

Expect all elements that have worked on "Late Night" to be brought over to "Tonight." The Roots are the Roots -- a remarkable band -- and Higgins is the perfect foil for Jimmy -- a sort of affable everyman who fills out Fallon's jokes, or smooths rough edges. He's hipper than Ed McMahon, but everyone -- even me -- is hipper than Ed, who was a great sidekick but never pretended to be anything other than what he was: an able assist to Johnny.

Will "The Tonight Show" change significantly from "Late Night?" 

Absolutely. This is the BIG SHOW. "LN" is the little show . . . Lorne, the greatest showman in television, will create a big sprawling beautiful show -- a nightly party that will DEMAND that you tune in just to find out what the hell you might be missing. But it won't be overkill either. The fundamentals remain the same -- this is a tuck-in-bed show that ideally should help you put out the lights every night. That won't change. But the top of "Tonight" will. Expect longer monologues, more skits, more prepared comedy and most of all, more surprises. Predictability is death.

Will Jimmy Fallon change?

I think to a certain extent he has to. "Tonight" is not merely an earlier version of "Late Night:" It is a cultural force and a political force. Lorne understands this better than anyone on the planet -- he helped write the book --- and has probably gotten NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke's ear on this subject. Under Jay, "Tonight" was and has been achingly safe and middlebrow. Don't get me wrong -- I'm a Jay fan and always have been, but his brand of humor is designed to be inoffensive. At some point, Jimmy will have to use the monologue to define the political landscape, and that means making nasty jokes about Democrats and Republicans. He's done plenty of political humor, but it's not his forte. He's now or soon will be at "Tonight," which like "SNL," every four years, defines politics for the American electorate as much as the debates.

What will Jay do?

Get another job, what else? I expect Fox will consider him, then unconsider him. They've given up on late night over there. A cable network will kick the tires, but he is expensive -- despite what he says about not needing the money -- and he will see cable as a comedown, or as "boutique."  Jimmy wants another big tent. Who will provide that? Ummmm. You got me on that one.  

Will Jay return to "Tonight" when or if Jimmy fails?

Yuk yuk. Funny . . . but consider that it did happen once before. The answer is no. It's done. Forever. Jay's run at "Tonight" is over for good a year from now.

But will Jimmy fail?

No. This "Tonight" -- versus Conan's "Tonight" -- will succeed and here's why: Lorne Michaels. Conan made the almost inconceivable blunder of freezing Lorne out of "Tonight." Conan had the best ally and never even knew it. Lorne was infuriated by Conan's treatment, and Conan lost not only valuable counsel but an even more valuable ally. I'm not sure why Michaels was shunned by Conan, but I suspect Coco figured he was his own man, and didn't want to be told what to do. There are lots of other theories out there about this, and I'm not getting into 'em here.

But what about ratings? Surely Jimmy won't get the big number Jay did, and there's always Dave (Letterman) next door?

Let me make this answer very simple: It's not entirely about ratings or mass ratings. It's about young adults, and the promise of luring more young adults. Jay was never going to lure more young adults. Jimmy is all upside here. Second, this isn't just about the raw Nielsen number -- it's also about social media (Facebook) and online viewing; many, many viewers now watch "Late Night" in the mornings -- it's THEIR morning show. Nielsen has begun to capture that viewer, and many of those viewers are watching Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon.

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