Someone must have thought “Tonight Show” viewers would have no clue who Jimmy Fallon is. So, for the first 15 minutes of his first post-news gig on NBC, the new host introduced himself, did a so-so monologue and welcomed a pretty impressive roster of walk-ons.
The premise? Folks who didn’t think he’d ever be the host of “Tonight” had to pay him $100. Robert De Niro came out first, then Tina Fey, Joe Namath, Rudy Giuliani, Mariah Carey, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga and Steven Colbert, who paid in pennies.
For his first skit, Fallon offered up the “evolution of hip-hop dance” with Will Smith. It didn’t have the punch of a Justin Timberlake bit (or even his mom dancing number with Michelle Obama) but it quickly announced Fallon as someone who was going to do sketches more than Jay Walking.
The set – much larger than his “Late Night” one – featured rich wood finishes and a spot for The Roots that immediately recalled an old-school broadcast booth.
U2, the first musical guest, didn’t perform on the blue-curtained set but at the Top of the Rock, the rooftop observation area at Rockefeller Plaza. The view was impressive but unsettling. If that’s going to be his answer to Jimmy Kimmel’s parking lot, it’ll work. It’s like an establishing shot from a Woody Allen romance.
Lit better than he was on “Late Night,” Fallon seemed calmer than usual and didn’t have trouble chatting up Will Smith. (Oddly, the furniture seems undersized and overused – the blue couch/chair combo looks worn. The wood skyscape should be sold at the Museum of Modern Art as a collectible.)
Smith, though, acted like he was with Jay Leno, telling stories that didn’t register as particularly interesting or fresh. He said he taught his kids they were sharing their “gift” as performers and they shouldn’t take it for granted. And he talked about skydiving, complete with photo from Dubai. Ho hum.
Bono and the rest of U2 got their moment on the couch, too, (even singing a second song) but Fallon shouldn’t be compelled to play old Leno games just to fill the hour.
The first change? Ditch 10 minutes of a monologue. He did much better with five on “Late Night” and doesn’t need the weak commentary on three-day-old news.
Then? He should go back to playing games with guests and showing them in a different light. That’s how David Letterman got a foothold. It’ll help Fallon, too.
And cleaning up the act for mom and dad at 10:30? Forget about it. The key is bringing his audience from 11:30. Pandering to an older crowd will just make him seem like a pale imitation of his predecessors.
Because it took Fallon a while to settle into the 11:30 gig, it’s a safe bet he’ll get his legs here in a matter of weeks.
Now, though, it’s very much a shake-down cruise. The boat is loaded. It just needs to get up to speed.