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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. 

 

Jimmy Fallon dusts off 'Late Night' for 'Tonight'

Host Jimmy Fallon and "Divergent" actress Shailene Woodley

(Credit: AP / Lloyd Bishop)

As Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" hums along nicely -- and will in fact turn 1 month old next week -- one of the pleasures of watching has been to determine which sketches are new, and which are recycled from "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." 

So far, almost all are recycled to some degree (as far as I can tell), like "Pros and Cons," "Thank You Notes," and so on. Just to be clear, there's certainly nothing wrong with that, and pretty much everything right: Why discard material that worked so well before, this time for many new viewers? Plus, Fallon always said he was going to do the same show. Promise kept! There were in fact many dozens of bits from the old "Late Night," a regular hothouse of comedy sketch material - well over a hundred bits. Expect many more to be reborn here.

Wednesday night is a good example: Just about everything, best I could tell, had been done before on "Late Night" (with the exception of the Putin impression): "Flaming Eyes," "Black Simon & Garfunkel," "Audience Suggestion Box"  and ..."Yahoo Answers." 

Check it out: Audra McDonald, who does this flawlessly, reprises a bit that is very amusing ..."Yahoo Answers:" 

(App readers, watch the video here: http://bit.ly/O6IJUc. Unfortunately, this content is unavailable on mobile phones.)

Lindsay Lohan goes to (water) war with Jimmy Fallon on 'The Tonight Show'

Lindsay Lohan and Jimmy Fallon play a game

(Credit: Getty Images)

Without further comment, Lindsay Lohan's water war gambit with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday night, in which good water was wasted in the service of a comic bit, notable for two things: 1.) One of the soakees is Lohan; 2.) She becomes the first woman to get soaked in this long-running Fallon game. Also: The real interview follows, in two clips (the second one is amusing).

(App readers, watch the videos here: http://bit.ly/1fLmDSU. Unfortunately, this content is unavailable on mobile phones.)

'Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon': So far, so very good

Jerry Seinfeld visited "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo)

Exactly two weeks in, how's the most important, pivotal and historic programming move of the year - of many years - going so far, referring here of course to "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"? On the most basic level of them all -- numbers -- almost amazingly well. Thanks to DVR, or time-shifted viewing -- which has essentially become the coin of the realm in late night, making late night TV essentially "watching-the-next-day-during-your-coffee-break" TV -- the show boosted total viewership by 2,000,000 viewers for the first week. That makes for a total of 10.4 million, or the most for one week since Johnny Carson's last week in May of 1992 (just under 20 million -- so, no contest, of course).  And here's the clincher: The average age of that audience is just under 53 years of age, or a drop of around six to seven years in age from Jay's show. Keep in mind -- NBC engineered this whole business as a mean of reversing "Tonight's" graying audience.

  But from a critical perspective, how is this show doing? There's nothing here that suggests I should change my initial impression -- a positive one -- except that maybe I might offer an even more positive spin at this point: This has been an excellent two weeks for Fallon on the air. Sure, the "interviews" often seem more like rolling kaffeeklatsches absent substance, but with plenty of laughs and non sequiturs (the rambling on about the "Rocky" franchise with Paul Rudd, for example). But get past those -- and they do tend to be amusing -- and you have yourself a revitalized, enjoyable, and surprisingly smart new "Tonight."  Fallon's monologues -- of all things! -- have been one of the strong points: Effortless, funny, roll-with-the-punches and smart. Fans knew all along he could nail this show, but the new monologues-on-steroids strategy was certainly something to be concerned about. (Fallon is a fine performer, but he's not a joke machine.) But he's nailed that too.

  Meanwhile, the embedded comedy -- for want of a better term -- has been a standout as well. Here is one example: Last night's "Wastepaper Basketball with LeBron James." Not quite comedy, but a catchy interlude nevertheless. 

 

Was that product placement on Monday's 'Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon?' (No.)

Host Jimmy Fallon is seated at his desk

(Credit: AP / NBC, Lloyd Bishop)

"The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon"  had  a particularly clever pre-taped sketch on last night's edition -- what the Beatles would have done had they been inflected with all the ephemera that goes with today's marketing-saturated world.  (Or simply titled, "The  Beatles Were Way Ahead of Their Time.") 

But was it also a bit nefarious -- a commercial for no fewer than THREE PRODUCTS? (Red Bull, Instagram and another household name, which escapes me for the moment?) Or to rephrase: Was it on one hand a sendup of marketing overkill; on the other hand,  part of the marketing overkill by selling the stuff it mentions, like Red Bull?

  I am told...no. This was not a paid integration, per NBC. . 

So score one for Jimmy. Product integration is out there and it's sneaky - but you don't really want it on shows like "Tonight."  Simple as that. 

 It was a very good bit - take a look if you missed.

Jerry Seinfeld on second 'Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon'

Jerry Seinfeld visits "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo)

The second edition of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" is now officially history -- and the third will be history at this time tomorrow, but that's another post -- and as part of this historic occasion: Jerry Seinfeld.

There were two Jerrys last night -- the stand-up Jerry and the sit-down Jerry.  Here are both clips for those who may have missed them (app readers, go to newsday.com/tvzone,...

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