The new star of NBC’s “Tonight Show” began his tenure with an introduction: “Welcome, I’m Jimmy Fallon and I’ll be your host … for now.” This knowing wink to predecessors Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno also references the uncertain future of late-night TV. While Fallon’s ratings will likely never match those of Johnny Carson or Leno at their peaks, late night shows still have a place on NBC, and the 39-year-old Fallon is the right host to carry the network into an uncharted new era. Here’s why:
He Has a Sketch History
Considering Fallon spent six years on “Saturday Night Live,” it’s no surprise that “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” regularly relied on “Saturday Night Live”-style sketches. Take, for example, the recurring “Downton Abbey” parody, “Downton Sixbey,” or any number of his musical sketches: the “History of Rap” with Justin Timberlake, his Neil Young impression, or that time he, The Roots and Carly Rae Jepsen performed “Call Me Maybe” using toy instruments.
He’s Staying in New York
Monday’s broadcast was the first time “The Tonight Show” had filmed in New York for more than 40 years. Moving the show to the Big Apple may be NBC’s best decision in years. When O’Brien moved to Los Angeles to take over “Tonight,” it seemed to hinder his comedy more than it helped. Keeping Fallon in NYC meant he could keep The Roots and much of his staff intact.
His Roots Are Strong
“Late Night” was renowned for helping emerging musical acts — such as Dirty Projectors and Frank Ocean — hit the mainstream. Then there’s The Roots, arguably the best house band in the history of late-night. On “Late Night,” The Roots often (and effortlessly) acted as the backing band for the likes of Elvis Costello, Odd Future and Michael McDonald. The Philadelphia-based crew are woven into the very fabric of the show, from the obscure and (perfectly curated) walk-on music for guests, to their seamless integration during sketches (particularly when they slow jam the news or Fallon does anything musical).
He Has Fun, and So Do His Guests
Unlike Seth Meyers, who takes over “Late Night” next week, Fallon is seemingly immune to being snarky. I appreciate Fallon’s positive outlook as a counter to Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman. And while Fallon’s not a probing interviewer, often relying on palling around or heaping praise on his guests, that’s not really the point of late-night TV anymore. If you want to watch Betty White play beer pong, or Scarlett Johansson play charades with Drake, you’re watching Fallon.
He Gets the Internet
It may seem insignificant, but when Fallon started “Late Night” in 2009, he was the first late-night host with a laptop on his desk. He understands that a talk show needs content that works both at 11:30 p.m. and online the next day. I didn’t catch most of Fallon’s last “Late Night” episode, but the next day, I pulled up his final bit — a brilliant, oddly moving performance of The Band’s “The Weight” with The Muppets — on YouTube. “Tonight” may be the name of the show, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch Fallon tomorrow, too.