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'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon': New York, New York

Jimmy Fallon takes over as the new host

Jimmy Fallon takes over as the new host of "The Tonight Show" on Feb. 17, 2014. Credit: Lloyd Bishop/NBC

It's here, and he's here too — Jimmy Fallon, "The Tonight Show," and television history, for after not quite half a century, this great television franchise has returned to its birthplace. My story in tomorrow's Newsday. Bottom line: Good start.

After a nearly a 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, in fact, didn't just take center stage but at moments the whole stage did, with a rousing performance (of "Invisible") by U2 on the 70th floor roof of the GE building and the full expanse of Manhattan and the Empire State Building, in red, white and blue, as backdrop.

"Thank you for bringing the show back," former mayor Rudolph Giuliani — part of a procession of famous New Yorkers and other celebrities who made cameos — told Fallon.

A 21-second black and white photo montage, directed by Spike Lee, of New York locales opened the new edition — and which then morphed into color when the montage ended at 30 Rock. (Yes, think "The Wizard of Oz"...)

Meanwhile there was that studio: 6B, where Johnny Carson hosted before taking "Tonight " to Burbank in 1972 where it had remained until just now, had undergone a dramatic overhaul, with the centerpiece a 3-D model of the Manhattan skyline behind the host desk and guest chairs.

As host, Fallon appeared to embrace the reasonable counsel offered by Judd Apatow on the last "Late Night" two weeks ago: "My only advice Jimmy, don't change anything."

And Jimmy really didn't, or hardly anything. "I'm Jimmy Fallon," he deadpanned. "I'll be your host — for now."

He went on to thank his predecessors — Jay Leno twice — then added, "I honestly don't know how I got here." He seemed almost [well] absolutely serious about that.

In an obligatory aside, he took a moment to credit his upbringing (in Saugerties, a wonderful town, he called it, and you can hear a cheer in this wonderful town right about now), then to to his parents, Jim and Gloria, who were in the audience, he said this: "I wished I coulda got you better seats."

He then went into a standard monologue which ran 11 minutes and 52 seconds, or just about a quarter of the show, and which began with this redundant declaration: "I'll make fun of everybody so you can go to bed with a smile on your face."

As new host, Fallon was Fallon — a comfortable figure in a trim gray suit whose first night humor seemed carefully calibrated to play to the middle of the country as opposed to either coast. "The U.S. Men's hockey team beat the Russians over the weekend — the Americans are thrilled with the win, the Russian team is missing...."

In one extended bit, he joked that the person who had bet a hundred dollars that he'd never become host of "Tonight" had come to pay up. And out walked Robert DeNiro who laid down a bill on the host table.

He was then followed by a long line of others who also paid up — including Lindsay Lohan, Joe Namath and Joan Rivers, a former substitute host who had been banished by Carson when she went to Fox. The bit ended with Stephen Colbert who paid his debt in pennies then ended with this: "Welcome to 11:30, bitch."

As first guest, Will Smith had no movie to sell but instead performed a skit (The Evolution of Hip Hop Dancing, which of course was an amusing riff on Fallon and Justin Timberlake's "The Evolution of Hip Hop) and he later offered the not-outwardly-anyway new host this bit of reassurance at the outset of his new job: "I was watching all the people to come to support [you]. People are coming for you. They are coming because of your heart."

And maybe too because Fallon, at 39, is heir to a storied franchise and (whether he realizes it or not,) is now one of the most powerful people in show business.

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