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 Door No. 2. Fallon's "Tonight" has been a success — a huge one born of talent (Fallon's and staff's) and a generational shift in viewing habits and the way (especially) viewers more often than not engage with late-night TV nowadays (or nights).
"Tonight" and NBC (as well as predecessor show "Late Night") have established a template for viewing that's predicated on viral videos, Instagrams, Twitter, Facebook and any other way fans can digest this in chunks at their leisure without being enslaved by the age-old model of sitting in front of the tube at 11:35, kicking up, and wading through 22 minutes of commercials. (That old model, by the way, remains very much the bedrock of late night — and Fallon's success. Just not as much.)
It should be added here that Jimmy Kimmel and Dave Letterman have absolutely embraced a similar model, and successfully. It's just that Fallon's show, at one hundred episodes, is better engineered to take advantage of this.
This clip (app users, click on the link above) illustrates this to an extent: Fallon over the years has introduced hundreds of made-for-viral bits that have long survived after the shows themselves have faded into memory. It's the new world of late night and it's not even "late night" any longer, but "anytime."
Monday night's Instagram segment was brand new — and tailored to audience expectations, which tend toward social media as opposed to the solipsistic ones the rest of us grew up with.
Naturally, none of this would have worked if Fallon had not been a good choice for this vital job — the most important at NBC in fact — and he has absolutely has been. A couple of minor quibbles: His interviewing skills, as I have made note of here often, are rudimentary, and not even "skills," but something else entirely. His guest "interviews" in fact are not "interviews" but engagements, or interactions — or warm-ups to shtick or full-blown shtick ("Faceballs").
But viewers apparently don't come to a "Tonight" interview for information any longer, but for entertainment — one reason, I would imagine, most guests so far love this. It's all about making them look better (or funnier) and nothing makes a star happier.
Quickly, here are the numbers at 100. They tell a big part of this story. People are still watching at 11:35, which means that even the traditional late-night viewer comfortable with Jay Leno and his "Tonight" have held on. For Fallon's "Tonight" to have succeeded, he needed to establish a comfort zone for Jay's traditionalists, too. He has, and that's another reason this 100-episode benchmark is such a good one for the host.
Here are the numbers, since February launch:
Adults 18-49 11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m. Eastern time
NBC “Tonight” 1.24 rating, 6 share
CBS “Late Show” 0.50 rating, 2 share
ABC “Kimmel” 0.64 rating, 3 share
Total viewers: 11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m. Eastern time
NBC “Tonight” 3.969 million viewers
CBS “Late Show” 2.590 million viewers
ABC “Kimmel” 2.558 million viewers