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'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' -- Well, what did we really think? A review

So maybe you've had a chance to see the new “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.“ Well...what did you think? Share thoughts if you like, but in the meantime here are some of mine — in no particular order, and because Tuesday's print story was not exactly a review, per se, allow me to use this space to offer a brief critical perspective. And away we go.

* U2 and the 70th floor: Let's begin with the breakout star of the first edition — U2's reasonably mind-blowing performance of "Invisible" without an apparent safety net — only air separating one of the world's most famous bands and concrete 872-feet below. This is a famous piece of real estate within a famous piece of real estate — that famous Depression-era photo, "Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper" was shot here back in the early '30s when the building was nearing completion: Workers sitting on a steel beam high above the streets, eating lunch without helmets. Hard to say whether this confined space has even been used to such spectacular effect since, but Monday night ranks as one of the standout moments for certain, It occurred to me, maybe you, that this could be used again for the same purpose, but the risks seem considerable enough to suggest that this will be one of those one-time-only events...

* The reborn Studio 6B which Fallon vacated last year for this rebirth appeared much larger than the old "Late Night" space, but that may be one of those Trompe-l'œil's TV excels at: Shot from above, it appears vast, but the clues as to real size appeared at the end of the show when Jimmy was scaling the stairs. Maybe not so huge — in fact, only 50 new seats were added. NBC initially was of a mind to blow out a floor (probably up to the 7th) to really make the space huge, but cost (many millions, conservatively, and many millions more realistically) became prohibitive and Fallon didn't really want the larger space. He's said in interviews that he doesn't particularly like playing to balconies. What the designers did apparently do was blow out the floor space in front of a new proscenium instead — which gives the illusion of expanse — and added that gilded bandstand for the Roots. All in all the studio redesign appears to be a real winner for the show.

* Model of the New York skyline behind the host's desk? Sure you've seen that before, or something similar — "Late Show with David Letterman" in the early days had a skyline model behind Dave's desk, complete with a little working toy subway train (the butt of many good jokes...) The backdrop on Dave's set is still very New York-dramatic (a bridge span seen through a pair of big windows behind the host's desk and gives the impression of 3-D, but the old model of the toy city is gone.)

* The monologue was just seconds shy of 12 minutes — actually a combination of introductory comments, followed by jokes — and that's the length to expect going forward. But of note, you may have noticed this wasn't a pound-out-the-jokes style of monologue but one embedded with prepared bits — pictures of Olympics stars, for example, and their "most likely to become" predictions from high school, etc. Expect this to be standard operating procedure going forward — fewer jokes, more embedded sketch material, playing off the day's news. Fallon's not Leno — an industrial strength joke machine, and 12 minutes of joke after joke (after joke) would be a killing pace for someone like him, nor one that would play to his strengths anyway. This seems like a smart solution.

* Will Smith — Why the first interview? Why not! He's got deep ties, no doubt, to Universal and if he doesn't have a movie to sell today, he will tomorrow. He and Fallon do have a good rapport, and Smith seems to genuinely like the new host. This interview did point up one of Fallon's weaknesses however — a tendency to be obsequious, to be incurious... The Fallon interview as a matter of course tends to be light on information, heavy on banter. His questions are barely questions — more like prompts. In this regard, he is a massive departure from Johnny Carson — a superb interviewer, and even Jimmy Kimmel, an excellent one as well. Kimmel in fact has a journalist's eye and ear — he probes, and asks follow-ups, and if not fearless usually doesn't shy from asking hard questions. That's not Fallon — not remotely — but now that he's in the big seat, a degree of inquisitiveness is essential. After all, he's also competing with Jon Stewart — who is one of TV's best interviewers, comedy or news.

* Yeah, that was Lindsay Lohan you saw last night — along with a few dozen other camera-shy celebrities. That $100 bet sketch was a standout of the night — not quite a U2 score, but close enough. It maybe went on too long if anything before the perfect Colbert kicker arrived. But this points out one obvious thing here — Fallon is not working without a net. He has an excellent stable of writers back there behind the big blue curtain; his EP, Josh Leib, worked with Jon Stewart

Bottom line: Good strong start for Jimmy Fallon. Just about everything worked, and worked well, from the opening credits to the final ones. The energy and beauty of New York City was incorporated in a way that exceeded even my expectations — happily exceeded them. Meanwhile, The host: A bit nervous, understandably, he nonetheless reminded fans and people who have never heard of him why he's here. A talented performer who disarms his guests, he is a pure distillation of human likability and charm. Yeah, he needs to work on the interviews, and yeah — you, or at least I — would like just the slightest degree of comic-effect acerbity: That Jack Benny double-take to the camera, or that David Letterman hard edge, or that Jimmy Kimmel bite, or that Jon Stewart refusal to suffer any fool gladly... But Fallon is Fallon. If he goes with his strengths, which are considerable, he should do fine.

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