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Tonight Show 2.0

fallontionightIt’s not news to anyone that Jay Leno has left and Jimmy Fallon has taken the lead on NBC’s Tonight Show, right? I don’t agree. While The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs after the local news (now that the Olympics are over) and it’s called the same thing as its predecessor, to me it’s like saying Springsteen’s High Hopes is the same song as the one with lyrics “High Apple Pie in the Sky Hopes”. Same title, different tune (I liked the original better—oops there goes another rubber tree plant)

The Tonight Show has the same title but it’s a different tune. For me, it’s all for the better. The New York location gives it a different vibe, but more importantly Fallon is not all like Leno. Leno was a master of Carson-like monologue and guest interviews on a couch adjacent to the desk. Formulaic, and it worked, appealing to an older demo with particular regional strength with viewers in Central U.S. Nothing wrong with that. The total audience size was impressive. Truth of the matter is that Fallon isn’t nearly as good at delivering the old-time late night format and would fail if he was merely Leno-lite—But he’s not.

hiphopFallon’s Tonight Show is more SNL-like. Nothing Carson-esque about the “Evolution of Hip Dancing” with Will Smith on the first show.

ru drunlineNor would U2 play Leno’s Tonight Show on a roof top. (I loved that that Rutgers Drumline was part of that too—RU rah, rah)

The Tonight Show is now full of skits, edgier music, and physical comedy. I’m really loving it so far and am making a point to check it our nightly if I’m up. I can’t say that about any late night show for the past 25 years.

Will Fallon succeed? Kind of depends on the definition of success. He will probably not exceed the overall audience size of Leno. The same folk who really liked Leno may not dig Fallon. That’s OK. On the other hand, I would be surprised if the viewers in the coveted 18-49 demgraphic don’t increase. That’s the demo many advertisers seek (OK, not prostate drugs or Retirement plans).

Certainly the first week numbers have been impressive. Fallon has averaged a 2.8 rating/14 share in the first 4 days in the 18-49 demo, far higher than other late night debuts. Obviously the show has gotten a boost with the Olympics lead-in in week one. Impressive as week one was, the real test is months from now when the novelty has gone.

Late night has changed for good in any case. Letterman is the closest to “old time” late night but he has always had an East Coast edge/sharper tongue, but he’s certainly on the late night back nine (actually chronologically 2 years older than Leno—but I always viewed as “younger”). Kimmel is interesting and young too. And Conan is still quirky.

But Fallon is a real talent and his likeability and skit-delivery style makes it far more YouTube/viral than Leno ever was. Time will tell whether he will succeed in the long run. I’m betting he will.




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