Jimmy Fallon Debuts to Wild Applause on ‘Tonight Show’

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty
After such an assured first night, Jimmy Fallon already looks like a happy, permanent fixture in the Tonight Show pantheon.
Jimmy Fallon has scaled the highest height in television and is now posed proudly at the pinnacle. Having risen very visibly through the ranks of TV fame—from featured player on Saturday Night Live to host of his own very-late-night TV show, he is host of the newly renovated, Manhattan-based, blindingly shiny Tonight Show, the premiere of which proved emphatically and immaculately entertaining on NBC last night.

“Even if I weren’t involved, I’d be so psych’d to watch it,” Fallon said of his own first show, and it’s understandable if he doesn’t think of the series as “his own” yet, even understandable if he never does. The Tonight Show is an entitlement bestowed on a privileged few, with the host more the custodian of a showbiz heritage than the actual owner of anything.

Indeed! The Tonight Show is the TV equivalent of the White House. You fight and scheme and pray to get it, even while knowing fully that, like life itself, occupation is temporal. Perhaps one of the duties ascribed to Steve Higgins, Fallon’s overly tall sidekick and announcer (transplanted, like the incomparable house band, The Roots, from Fallon’s Late Night show) should be to follow Fallon around with an umbrella while chanting repeatedly in the host’s left ear, “Thou art mortal, thou art mortal, thou art mortal,” the way Caesar’s flunkies did back in The Day. Way back.

One of Fallon’s great virtues, however, is a seemingly self-effacing humility rare in show (or any) business. He knows he’s mortal and likely doesn’t need reminding. Could he be faking that boyish, nice-guy, eager-to-please charm, the way “sincerity” is perpetually faked all over the spectrum? Maybe, but he still seems subject to an honesty that can’t be suppressed, a streak of what might be called The Genuines that live contentedly in his blood stream.

Yes, he needs to relax, and maybe cool it a little with the clapping, the drunk-uncle laughter, the excessive delight at whatever and whoever comes his way—but the sheer force of his apparent happiness is essentially irresistible. Some people spend fortunes and bathe their brains in drugs to create and sustain this kind of bliss; how disheartening it would be to learn that Fallon requires artificial stimuli to reach it, but that seems very, very unlikely. There’s considerable evidence to support the idea that Our Boy Jimmy is as genuine as they come.

Since The Tonight Show is now a Lorne Michaels production—ending nearly 40 years of enforced separation between the two domains, Tonight and SNL—all the trappings are impeccable, and that would include an opening-credit sequence created by Spike Lee, and SNL veteran Eugene Lee’s (no relation to Spike) strikingly simple set, with Fallon apparently having brought his blue curtain over to Studio 6-B from Late Night across the hall as a good-luck charm, plus a gorgeous model of the Manhattan skyline rising up from behind the desk. The Roots now preside from a large, wooden bandstand, the aggregation having grown slightly in size.

Some of the old Late Night staples, like the writing of fake “thank-you notes” on Friday nights, will be brought over to the new environment, but on opening night there wasn’t time to do much but jump up and down in joy, figuratively speaking (Fallon did literally jump up and down, logically enough, during an “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” sketch costarring Fallon’s first guest, Will Smith) and to be delighted at this historic turn of events.

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Source: The Daily Beast | Tom Shales