The numbers came in over the weekend; Jimmy Fallon, the intrepid, newly-christened heir to NBC’s Tonight Show, trounced the competition. This could be due to any number of temporary factors, like the fact that the show was dogging the heels of the Olympics, or that viewers tuned in merely for the novelty of something new. Still, it’s hard not to suspect that this Fallon kid isn’t going somewhere. More so than even relative newcomer Jimmy Kimmel, Fallon is a Tonight host for the 21st century. You might not necessarily see his skits as they air, but damned if they won’t be all over your Facebook feed the next morning.
Since he turned up on SNL some years ago, Fallon has been eager to please, and we’re sure everyone wishes this likeable fellow the best. But this piece is not so much about the fact that Jimmy’s here, but that finally, we don’t have to see Jay Leno’s smug, porcine balloon of a face on TV any more.
Jay, in this writer’s opinion, was just the worst. Letterman—who Leno arguably shafted out of a job—had an absurdist streak in terms of his humor, and a sharp, endearingly grouchy presence. Conan—who Leno undeniably shafted out of a job—took Dave’s surreal brand of comedy to near cerebral heights, but delivered it with a good-natured charm reminiscent of the rightfully legendary Johnny Carson. And Kimmel? Kimmel will do in a pinch, we suppose.
Between hosting duties and perpetual stand-up tours, Jay Leno acquired a reputation as a tireless taskmaster. But when it came to his jokes, his interviews, and his skits, he never really seemed to put much work into it; with laser-like focus, he locked eyes with the dumb, easy laugh, and never once looked away. Bill Clinton got a BJ, tee hee. Bush is a dope, har har. Obama… is it safe to make Obama jokes on broadcast television yet? If he were another white president, this wouldn’t be an issue. Let’s just let the Bill Mahers of the world do the risqué stuff. Or the thought-provoking stuff. Or the stuff that’s even remotely funny. The Jay Leno brand isn’t trying to engage anyone.
As far as this blogger is concerned, The Tonight Show with Jay at the helm wasn’t markedly different from an ocean machine; it was a dull, unobtrusive noise to lull one’s 60-something parents to sleep. Jimmy Fallon could, in thirty years’ time, become a legend in his own right. Or he could get the axe a year from now. But thanks to Jay Leno having set the bar so low, Jimmy’s sure to at least tread water, so long as we can keep his audience awake.