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Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight' turns 100

Jimmy Fallon was spotted shopping with 1-year-old daughter

(Credit: Getty Images / Slaven Vlasic)

Jimmy Fallon turned one hundred Monday night. (Congrats, Jimmy: Not easy. Even with vitamins.)

One hundred episodes of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Otherwise known as one hundred chances to make NBC really regret one of the most momentous decisions in the network's long history. Or one hundred chances to prove NBC right ... over and over and over again.

The answer lies behind...

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Chris Christie dances (sort of) with Jimmy Fallon on 'Tonight Show'

Host Jimmy Fallon, left, and NJ Governor Chris

(Credit: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon via YouTube)

One must do what one must do to leave the biggest scandal of one's administration behind, as one looks forward to 2016, and what one governor of the state of New Jersey, Chris Christie, did Thursday night was dance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."

No: It was NOT as painful as you might reasonably imagine; actually, it was even amusing. In this segment, Jimmy Fallon and Chrisite do the "evolution of dad dancing" (and as many dads will attest, they got this almost exactly right).

What will pundits have to say about Christie's latest moves? That at least, the very least, it briefly removed the association of those threee letters -- "G," "W," and "B" -- from his name. And all it took was a dance-off with Fallon to do so.

Long-term effects? Three more letters: "TBD."

Jimmy Fallon, JLo have their tight pants on

Everybody's talking about their tight pants -- Jennifer Lopez's and Jimmy Fallon's -- because they had their tight pants on, on Monday night's "Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon." (And J. Lo's hair, too. Everybody's talking about that as well.)

Robinson Cano on 'Tonight Show'

Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano looks on

(Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann)

Sure, sure, Yankee fans love Robinson Cano., They also hate Robinson Cano. This is apparently the same sort of ambivalence that Red Sox fans have about Jacoby Ellsbury. Except, the Cano emotional conflict is even deeper, more....conflict-y.. To that end, "Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" last night attempted to calm the ragged feelings of abandoned fans...

 

 

...

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Brian Williams raps 'Gin and Juice' on 'Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon'

Brian Williams, a rappin', rhymin' anchorman.

(Credit: AP / Evan Agostini)

"Gin and Juice." Brian Williams. NBC News. Hip-hop.

Words, ideas, even a collective visual package that doesn't quite fit. But check it out, yo: a rappin', rhymin' anchorman on Monday night's "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," when Williams made his first appearance on this new edition of the classic, preceded by another clever fast-cut of countless Williams sound bites that somehow, miraculously, are all merged into one two-minute (or so) not-bad-at-all version of the old Snoop Dogg song. Williams -- who really has no hand in any of this -- was "rap"-sodized by Fallon on "Late Night," too.

I suspect this will go viral, if it has not already.

Warning: Language may be offensive to some.

(App users, watch the video here: http://nwsdy.li/1hbIJgP)

Jimmy Fallon's tribute to David Letterman, as Top 10 List

Jimmy Fallon and more stars spotted in NYC.

(Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

From last night's "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," this nice little gift: A Top 10 list tribute to David Letterman, effectively designating the top 10 reasons why David Letterman is retiring. The first five are the best, just to give you a heads up. Plus Fallon's opening to this is both gracious ... and interesting:

Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Palin, Vladimir Putin: Strangest of bedfellows

Sarah Palin and Jimmy Fallon re-enacted a phone

(Credit: YouTube / Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon )

Sarah Palin -- promoting her new Sportsman Channel series "Amazing America," which launches Thursday night -- was on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on Wednesday, playing to Mama Bear character and daring Jimmy Fallon's now-established "Vlad Putin" to invade Alaska.

It was all quite amusing and established once again that late night TV remains the oddest of American art forms.

Watch the video below.

(Newsday's app and mobile users can click the link above to watch.)

A blue Joan Rivers returns to 'The Tonight Show'

Joan Rivers visits "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo)

Joan Rivers returned to "The Tonight Show" last night after a 28-year absence marked by recriminations, ill feelings, and insidery show biz back-biting.

And of course she was late to the set.

In fact, Rivers had a very brief cameo on Jimmy Fallon's very first show last month, but let's call last night the first real return.

But no matter. History of sorts was made and even if the return of the former late night queen was a bit blue, a little bit muddled -- and utterly devoid of truth -- so be it. Joan returned to the set that made her famous.

The best part: A nice gracious nod to Johnny -- no last name needed, right? -- which I suppose means no hard feelings anymore.

The interview pointed up the weakest aspect of the new host who otherwise -- as my few readers well know -- I have praised to the Studio 6B rafters. He is in fact doing a bang-up job, except his interviews tend to be exercises in non-information, as last night revealed in abundance.

Why did you not get invited back, he asked her?

He knows why, of course. Everybody knows why. But I also suspected the question was basically just a set-up for one of her oldest jokes.

The reason (if you actually don't know, by the way) is the second to last clip here. While Rivers was chief stand-in at  Carson's "Tonight" -- one of TV's greatest gigs because Johnny did take quite a few days off in the latter years as you'll recall -- she took a job at Fox to host a late night show and direct competitor to Carson. She never told Johnny; he saw her move as a betrayal (and it was certainly that) and he never spoke to her again. Rivers has made all sorts of excuses over the years -- oh, Edgar made her do it! (Edgar Rosenberg, her husband and agent, now deceased.) She couldn't tell Johnny because that would scuttle the deal. And so on.

But the fact remains. Joan betrayed Johnny.

Jay Leno, out of respect to Carson, kept her off his show. Jimmy, who's had her on "Late Night," certainly felt no compunction to do the same. In fact, he's right -- there is no reason. It's all ancient history. (Her "Late Show" essentially launched Fox back in October of '86, and the network fired her the following May.)

Another odd sidebar: David Letterman, who revered Johnny, buried the hatchet with her about four years ago.   

Clips. The second one is from her "Tonight" days, and is fascinating because Johnny holds up the photo from Joan's first date on "Tonight," 21 years earlier. Jimmy did the same last night. 

Meanwhile, I've put up the Letterman interview, too. Dave lays it all out very well. Infinitely better than last night's somewhat sad return.

She was often funny during her long association at "Tonight," and could've -- just possibly, maybe, who knows! -- even been the next "Tonight" host. But alas.

Billy Joel duets with Jimmy Fallon, talks new Sirius radio channel on 'Tonight Show'

Billy Joel joins Jimmy Fallon during a taping

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo/NBC)

Billy Joel -- a very famous New Yorker, after all -- arrived at the new New York-based "Tonight Starring Jimmy Fallon" to effectively consecrate Fallon's Gothamized version Thursday night, and did so by breaking a little news, about a forthcoming Sirius channel -- and by singing a duet of that old Solomon Linda chestnut, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," with the host.

Of the Billy Joel Channel, he admitted he didn't entirely know what he was going to do with it, but that's OK -- it's his channel to do whatever he darn well likes.

Plus, some talk about WLNG -- a Sag Harbor station you likely know well -- and the fact that the stage of MSG is built on springs.

All interesting. Here are the clips.

(App readers, watch them here: bit.ly/1gOPlBl)

'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' is a month old: Status report

Jerry Seinfeld visits "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo)

"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" turned one month old Monday, which means party time!

But hold on. Let's settle down. The party must wait.  First, some facts and analysis and critical perspective and quotes. Late night television has changed forever. Has it changed for the better?

To the questions:

So, how is "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" doing?

If the words "spectacularly well" offer a clue, then you have your answer. This launch has exceeded even NBC's expectations, and mine -- an aside offered by someone who has lived through both (and also  covered) the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien "Tonight" successions...umm, all three of them. 

If numbers tell part of the story -- they almost always do -- then let's get straight to those. Last week, "Tonight" was seen by an average 4.5 million viewers at the regular 11:35 p.m. time, compared to 4.9 million in Jay Leno's last full week on the air.

That was a high-water mark for Leno -- expected for his swan song week. One of the more relevant figures is "Tonight's" performance among viewers 18 to 34 -- Fallon has around a 1 rating, or 700,000 viewers in that age group last week, compared to a 0.7 or 500,000 for Jay in his final, heavily viewed week.

Then, finally, this number: "Tonight" has just less than double the total audience of second-place "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Show with David Letterman" -- both at about 2.7 million last week.

 Thanks for the math, but what does it mean?

One month in, the math appears to have resolved the single greatest concern that NBC had going in: Would "Tonight/Leno" viewers sample "Tonight/Fallon," then return for more? So far, the answer is yes and yes.

NBC is completing research to determine how many Leno loyalists have remained, but the preliminary read at the network is that many have -- possibly even most of those who refuse to break their habit and have so far found no reason to do so.

This is a key metric because the bottom fell out from under Conan O'Brien's "Tonight" fairly quickly after his June 1, 2009, launch. Yes, this is something an apples-to-carrots comparison. "Conan" launched midsummer five years ago, and "Fallon" had a tail wind (the Winter Olympics).

Nevertheless, this is March -- a huge month for "homes using television" -- and Fallon's figures are holding up.

What is the age of Fallon's viewers?

The average age is 54, or five years younger than Leno's viewers, and "Late Show's," which is now the oldest audience in late-night TV. It's also a year younger than Kimmel's average. 

Just to restate the obvious, youth rules in late night, or at least rules with advertisers -- a key reason Fallon is now host of "Tonight.' But the relative youth of Fallon's crowd indicates that his "Tonight" has actually added new viewers to the mix. Leno's "Tonight" was doing the exact opposite -- losing them.

What does NBC think?

Ted Harbert, NBC Broadcasting chairman, said in a recent interview, "I have an odd relationship with A.C. Nielsen, and deep in my heart get superstitious [when predicting ratings]. I thought we could run the table with both Jimmy and Seth [Meyers, whose 'Late Night' is also doing very well], but we didn't think it would be this high.

"My read is that we kept who we had and added more [audience], which is hard to do in any day part. That's what makes this so fascinating. It seems too early after a month to make any big general statements, but this could be one of those rare game changers where people have caught on to this guy."

Harbert -- a TV veteran and former chief of ABC Entertainment during its glory days -- says credit is due, beyond Fallon and his team, to "Lorne [Michaels], who has set this network up to be flush in late night talent."

What does the Newsday critic think?

Fallon's "Tonight" is excellent -- superior to Leno's "Tonight" (sorry, Jay, but true). Most of all, the new "Tonight" is refreshing, comfortable and often surprising, which are words seldom heard about late-night TV anymore.

This also feels like a show that knows itself -- knows what it wants to say, and how to say it, or at least how to perform it. Almost all key elements click -- the monologue especially, as well as the many sketches that made the hop from 12:35 to 11:35 with Fallon.

What's unexpected is that this really does appear to be the exact same show as Fallon's "Late Night," right down to the curtain (actually, "Late Night's" curtain was a solid blue. Fallon's "Tonight" is two-tone. Plus, that skyline). NBC and Fallon promised the same show, but how many times are promises kept in this business?

Harbert puts it this way: "The mistake we made at this network is that a lot of time was spent telling Conan how his show should change, but [this time we] said, 'You're not going to have the network telling you what to do and screw it up. Just keep doing what you're doing."

Differences, in fact, are subtle but significant: More host cross-chat with Steve Higgins, most of it improvised and most of it funny; more sketch tie-ins with members of The Roots, like James Poyser or Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, AKA Black Thought; and more monologue (but not that much more; Fallon's monologues still appear to run only around seven or eight minutes at most --  a good length for him.)

The guest segments are the weakest element, to date. Fallon's instincts are to perform, not to interrogate, so these can sometimes feel like free-form chats that lead nowhere fast. He tends to be a "fan" of everyone, has his TiVo filled with "all of their shows" or his iPod with "all of their songs."

Jimmy's a nice guy -- we know that -- but he needs to develop a critical distance and perspective. Even a coolness. That's not a bad thing when you are the host of "The Tonight Show" and therefore arbiter, or at least gatekeeper, of pop culture tastes and trends.

Has the late-night landscape changed with the advent of Fallon?

Perhaps the better way to approach this question is with another question: What about Dave?

Letterman turns 66 April 12. He is -- yes -- the second greatest late night talk show host in TV history, and also the second oldest: Johnny Carson was 66 when he retired in 1992.

The rule in television is, just to restate, ironclad -- older audiences mean reduced profits, and with younger crowds at ABC and NBC, there will also be pressure at CBS to lower its average age, by grooming a new generation of "Late Show" viewers with (alas) a new "Late Show" host.

Letterman, who has a contract through 2015, has given no indication that he plans to step aside -- or as he put it to Oprah during an interview a year or so ago:  "When it’s time to go, somebody else tell me. Because I don’t know when it’s time to go.”

No one wants to see Letterman go.

I never want to see Letterman go. He is the greatest, most entertaining, most inventive late-night host in my lifetime. He is Dave. There is no other Dave and never will be. 

That said ... reality is reality. Letterman will be moving along someday.

For whom? Replacement possibilities remain the obvious ones -- and Craig Ferguson is not among them. Because "The Late Late Show" host lost regularly to Fallon's "Late Night," there's appears to little chance he would succeed at 11:35 opposite Fallon again, or so the logic goes.

A shame: Ferguson's "Late Late Show" is endlessly amusing, his monologues funny and his sidekick, Geoff, probably the single finest animatronic skeleton in late-night history.

But still.

Stephen Colbert's contract at Comedy Central ends this year, Jon Stewart's next year. There now appears to be growing industry consensus that Colbert may now be the heir apparent. Is it the CBS consensus? The Colbert one?

By the way, the average age of "The Colbert Report" viewer is 43.

My kicker: Stephen Colbert  could well be the next host of "Late Show."  

And of course, this: We'll see. 

 

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