Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE TONIGHT SHOW starring the new guy

Okay, so I’ve been sampling THE TONIGHT SHOW with Jimmy Fallon this week. And my verdict? It’s fine.

NBC’s strategic move to attract a younger audience will probably payoff to some degree. Watching the final Jay Leno show with Billy Crystal, who’s had as much work done as Joan Rivers, talking about old variety shows from the ‘60s, I could see why NBC made the switch. No one under 50 knew what they were talking about or cared. Compare that to Fallon’s premier where he and Will Smith did a medley of hip hop dances. Garth Brooks vs. U2 as musical guests. The times, they have a changed.
Was Fallon the right choice? My answer is: as opposed to who? He’s very sweet and likeable, which will be a nice contrast to Jimmy Kimmel, who I like but can come off smug, and Dave who has just become an old crank. And Fallon's very talented – he can sing, do impressions, dance, etc. Kimmel and Letterman can stand in place and sit.  Period.   So Fallon will have a leg up there. But for me, Jimmy Fallon lacks a certain presence, a gravitas. The host of THE TONIGHT SHOW used to be a commanding figure. Now it’s the shy nerd.

Fallon I’m sure will grow into the job. He’s come a long way since he started his latenight show. And a lot will depend on the quality of his writers. For the moment, when he does his monologue with his hands in his pockets he looks like Ed Sullivan. Has there ever been a stiffer human being in front of a camera than Ed Sullivan?

Of course, in time Jimmy Kimmel will improve too. Dave will just get worse. He’s already phoning it in and has been since the Bush Administration. 

Tom Shales, the one TV reviewer I hate more than any other, gave THE TONIGHT SHOW an unqualified rave based on the first night. Among the silly platitudes, he said that Fallon had risen to the pinnacle of television by being named host of THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Pinnacle of television? Really? Maybe thirty years ago when Johnny Carson owned latenight. When all the other competition combined was still just a fraction of his numbers. If Fallon beats Letterman by one point, NBC will be thrilled. Carson beat all comers by forty. Saying THE TONIGHT SHOW host is the pinnacle of television is like saying UCLA is the pinnacle of college basketball. Very few undergraduates of UCLA were even alive the last time they won the National Championship.

To me the bigger problem is this: the format itself is tired and musty. It’s another desk, and another backdrop of the city at night, and the couch, and the band, and the goofball announcer, and the monologue, and the celebrity guests just there to hawk their upcoming releases. The host wears a suit, the bandleader is a hipster, the interviews are tepid, and the second half of the show is almost all commercials.  Been there, done that... for sixty years.

Then you have Conan and Arsenio doing the same show with different desks on other channels. And THE DAILY SHOW and COLBERT REPORT, which is funnier and fresher than all of them.

Here’s my only real prediction: Jimmy Fallon will not host THE TONIGHT SHOW for the next twenty years. In twenty years there probably won’t be network television and NBC as we know it will exist as something else. THE VIEW will become the pinnacle of television.

86 comments:

Anonymous said...

UCLA won a title in 1995, but otherwise, you're point stands.

Anonymous said...

Will Smith is 45 and made his first recordings 27 years ago. That pre-dates Leno. Having him on is hardly a "youth-quake."

Charles H. Bryan said...

Melted ice caps. Suitcase nukes. Global pandemics. Accelerating extinction of species. Catastrophic meteor strikes. Corporatist surveillance states.

Of all the dystopic predictions of the future that I've encountered, nothing made me lose the will to live like reading "THE VIEW will become the pinnacle of television."

Thanks for the nightmares, Mr. Levine.

Scooter Schechtman said...

Four years ago there was a blog post by an entertainment writer that proclaimed "Craig Ferguson will be the new king of late night." But like a pro the writer hedged his bet: "That’s how I feel now. Come see me in ten minutes when everything changes."

Greg Ehrbar said...

"The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" was the pinnacle of Don Knotts movies.

Curt Alliaume said...

I'm not a good judge of late night TV talk shows; the only one I ever watched with any regularity was (hanging head in shame) Thicke of the Night. That said, you make an excellent point that the landscape is changing.

In April 1988, there was one talk show starting at 11 or 11:30 PM Eastern - Johnny Carson's. Nothing else (the landscape was littered with failures, from Alan Thicke to Joan Rivers, Joey Bishop to Merv Griffin).

Now we have Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Chelsea Handler, Arsenio Hall (who was really the one who opened up the possibilities), Andy Cohen, Charlie Rose, and (stretching the definition a little) Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert.

It's extremely unlikely that any one figure will ever dominate that time period the way Carson did again, so it's probably not worth obsessing on who the inheritor of his throne will be - the throne has collapsed. (Me, I'll be listening to the radio.)

Michael said...

Carson once said that the only competitor who ever could have beaten him was Dick Cavett. Interestingly enough, they were friendly and had known each other since Nebraska days.

Hollywoodaholic said...

I get the gravitas thing. My take is that Jimmy really comes off like... a boy. At 39. Probably indicative of the man-babies that also rule the theaters now (Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, etc. etc.) He's perfectly nice, but he's... a boy. Something you would never think of with Carson. So... maybe the audience grows up with him. But geez, late bloomers.

Also, why do these shows always have such flood lighting? If they could innovate one thing, how about a more moodier nighttime lighting instead of just whitewash floodlighting of desk and guests. Hasn't lighting technology come anywhere?

Anonymous said...

Just saw this post on Facebook this morning. Thought you might enjoy it.

http://goodinaroom.com/blog/top-screenwriting-bloggers/

Pam aka sisterzip

Anonymous said...

I just forwarded this column onto my friend, Tom Shales. He's perplexed why you don't like him. Me too, so perhaps you can explain in a future post.

Mike said...

I heard someone say that Fallon's audience is surprisingly old.

Now, what if Leno signs a deal with Fox?

Anonymous said...

Dick Cavett was a Tonight Show writer as was Joan Rivers. David Letterman will benefit from Jay Leno's firing.

Jimmy Fallon must have blown Loren Michaels early on.

BTW: Dave does not mail it in. Letterman is the Gold Standard in the tradition of Johnny Carson. All class and witty. Fallon is a poser!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Everybody always wants to reel in the younger audience... younger people aren't the only ones who watch TV.

But anyway... yeah, I know, sorry Ken, but I've got another spur-of-the-moment Friday question for you:

Being a television writer, you're pretty much the real deal, so I'm just curious, what is your overall personal opinion of fanfiction? Have you ever read any fanfics of some of the shows you've written for? I must admit, I've read some that were really well-written and felt as if they could have been actual episodes of the show, but I've also read some that were so bad, I felt as if I needed therapy after reading them.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that with all the competition in US late night, no one's tried any of the international late night formats... we've gotten used to enough of them from Youtube. The late night, living room, party couch setup seems ripe for use over here.

terrybenish said...

Previous commenter talked about Fallon as boy...whole shtick comes across like teenagers talking to each other without adults present.

Something harder, Jon Stewart and Colbert are ok, but yearn for something even sharper, sort of Lewis Blackish in terms of items touched but under control.

McAlvie said...

Yeah, the landscape is changing, but I'm not sure replacing an older host with a younger host is the answer. It occurs to me that the late night viewers are their own demographic. These are people who just want to relax, listen to some conversation, maybe get a chuckle or two out of it. But it's LATE NIGHT and they are looking to unwind from the day. So a new face and a new gag is not the answer, but rather a face that understands what late night viewers are looking for, which is basically another Johnny Carson.

Unfortunately, bean counters today think the answer to everything is to go 180, which is why there have been so many failed late night wannabes. I don't know if Fallon will grow into it or not. I think they might have the right idea, as at least Fallon isn't so over the top and perhaps someone viewers and guests will feel comfortable with. He doesn't have much presence yet, but maybe time and experience will take care of that.

Anonymous said...

There's a niche available for a Tom Snyder/Tomorrow-like show. (or even the Bob Costas/Later version)

Canda said...

All the comments are good, and Ken, you were right on many levels.

Fallon does not have gravitas. He's a high school grad, who appears to read little, and that shows.

Modern guys are more sensitive and attuned to others feelings, part of the success of feminization in child-rearing. But it doesn't make for a commanding figure.

Carson was a World War Two veteran,a college grad, an intellect, and a ladies man who married several times. Do I think he ever changed a diaper? No way. He had no trouble flirting with female guests, in a funny way that the audience
enjoyed.

You just know Fallon is a great and caring husband, and doting father who does his part of the child-rearing. Everyone would applaud that.
But it doesn't necessarily make him interesting. I'm not even sure what Fallon's world view is.

Seinfeld was right when he said Fallon had it all together. But the best hosts of the Tonight Show, like Jack Paar and Carson, had inner demons that drove them. So did Leno, who also had a driving ambition to be the host.

Breadbaker said...

I can understand how you didn't remember the last UCLA title. It was in the Kingdome, which of course doesn't exist anymore. I was there.

Stephen Robinson said...

During the final years of Carson's run, there was far more diversity in the late night series: Arsenio, Letterman, and Carson were all doing completely different shows with different feels for different audiences. There's just a sameness about all the talk shows now, especially now that Leno is gone. Say what you will about him but he was not a disciple of Letterman, as all the other hosts seem to be (without having the edginess of '80s Letterman). It's hard to explain to modern audiences what it was like to watch Carson and then see Letterman hosting the show from his house while waiting for the cable guy.

Ken Levine said...

In Tom Shales' review of one of our shows he blamed me personally for the downfall of quality television. I like to think I was not alone.

Cap'n Bob said...

I wanted to watch the first show but stopped after the love fest and monologue. I can't abide Will Smith and don't like modern country music so there was nothing there for me. And what's with these audiences that erupt into chaotic applause every time Fallon shrugs? I'll give him another chance, but I doubt I'll be a faithful viewer.

Back to the geezer bus.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Wow, Ken! Personally responsible for the downfall of quality TV!

On what did he base this notion? Did he have you confused with someone who invented reality shows?

wg

blinky said...

I can't wait for your take on Seth Meyers: the guy who laughs at all his own jokes. He is his own biggest fan.

bill said...

"I can't abide Will Smith and don't like modern country music so there was nothing there for me."

I didn't realize U2 was a modern country band. :)

Norm said...

1) Here are the numbers:

http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2014/02/18/the-tonight-show-with-jimmy-fallon-premiere-delivers-3-8-adults-18-49-rating-11-3-million-total-viewers/237999/

2) Noticing the "little things," interesting throw back to "CARSON" days where guests come out from curtain.

Wayne said...

He sings! He dances!
The Tonight Show.
Now as edgy as a high school musical.

Mike McCann said...


Canda began to make a point, which I'd like to focus and expand upon. Johnny Carson was intellectually curious -- he enjoyed reading, learning other subjects besides show biz and pop culture and being on top of the issues. Steve Allen and Jack Paar were much the same way -- witty yet worldly. I never sensed that from Jay and only caught occasional glimpses of it from Dave that they enjoye immersing themselves in other subjects. And I don't detect that at this point from Fallon.

Go back and look at old Carson shows or stories about them. It wasn't so much gravitas but the mark of a lifetime learner that made him and Steve Allen so special. They were both great on The Tonight Show, but could probably have capably guest hosted Meet the Press as well.

Tedd said...

My dad is still grumbling because Johnny Carson is no longer doing THE TONIGHT SHOW, apparently unswayed by the man's death. Of course, if it was up to my dad, Jack Benny would still be on the radio every Sunday night.

john brown said...

Carson beat the doors off of anyone who tried to compete with him. They all got canceled. Cavett, Sajak,Thicke.
Fallon needs to cut the monologue. Maybe junk it all together.

Il Bono Keith said...

@Cap n'Bob: that band was U2, not You'all 2. Other than that, I'm with you! Bring back Steve Allen, damn it!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mike McCann for helping Canda make an interesting point without offending us feminized folks in the process. Because it IS possible to both change diapers and have an interest in worldly stuff. One does not necessarily negate the other.

Rick Ritzzsopo said...

Since you personally destroyed the quality of TV, the so-called pinnacle can't be very high.

David Das said...

I'm struck by the fact that there's no mention of Craig Ferguson. But I see his "loser" persona to be his achilles heel, which could put him on course to be the next has-been like Letterman. But I do love his authenticity.

gottacook said...

"Garth Brooks vs. U2 as musical guests"…
They're all 52 or 53 years old, both Brooks and the members of U2, so I'm not at all sure that U2 would appeal to a "younger" crowd than Brooks does.

404 said...

Alright, I'll bite: I love Jimmy Fallon. I didn't miss a single episode of LATE NIGHT, and I plan on watching every episode of THE TONIGHT SHOW as well. I think he's very funny, very talented, and his sense of humor and frame of reference speak very much to me and my age (I just turned 40). I get his jokes, his references, his impressions. I don't think that's a requirement to like him, but for me it certainly help. He's likable, and most importantly: he makes me laugh. Consistently. I find him hysterical.

I scoff at the notion that the host of the the show has to be some sort of formidable, grounded presence with "gravitas." Why? Because that's how Johnny did it? So what? If you want to keep watching Johnny do it, then go back and watch your old DVDS of Johnny. Let the new show fall into the style of the new host.

Stop worrying about what the show isn't--judge it for what it is.

Mary Stella said...

I realize how out of touch I am with the debate of whether Fallon will be great, grow into the role, or even whether anything is the pinnacle of television.

I watched Carson pretty much every night, unless I was out in the rock clubs. Fallon could be absolutely brilliant and I wouldn't know. These days, it's rare if I'm still awake through the 11 o'clock news.

tb said...

Stiffer than Ed Sullivan? How about Jack Webb. Fallon's Jim Morrison impression was one of the greatest things ever, I'm a fan just for that alone. He'll be fine

Cat said...

I'll say it as well--I love Jimmy Fallon. I think those of us who watched Late Night regularly know who Jimmy is--he's a genuinely happy guy who loves music and comedy and pop culture. Even on SNL he had a sheer joy about him in every sketch, some people hated it when he broke in a sketch, I think it's just because he was enjoying himself so dang much. I will continue to watch the Tonight show. I've been know to cry with laughter after he does Hashtags or Thank You Notes. If you don't care for him, switch the channel. Simple as that.

DrBOP said...

REALLY hoping that Seth gets to blow this format TO SMITHEREENS!
I'm a geezer.....
....but I WANT SOMETHING NEW.....
SOMETHING CHALLENGING....
SOMETHING THAT KICKS ASS!!!

Same old, same OLD!

Powerhouse Salter said...

It could be that he and his viewers prefer being under the radar, but why is Craig Ferguson of CBS LATE LATE SHOW so often ignored or barely named in media comparisons of all the network talk show hosts?

Artie in Sin City said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Artie in Sin City said...

Damn, you upset the troops on this one...Most telling issue is the change in media...You are so dialed in with the demise of network TV as we know it...Everyone will have their OWN networks in their OWN hands...Fallon is acceptable, and that is a tad sad...The depth of TV talent with Steve Allen, Johnny Carson and even Jay Leno makes you wonder if there is ANYONE who can fill those old shoes...OR should we make the effort...Meantime I am content watching the guy no one talks about, Craig Ferguson..His corny show makes me laugh with his never ending pit of ad lib humor...Night all!

Foaming Solvent said...

Actually, Greg Ehrbar, "The Love God?" was the pinnacle of Don Knotts movies -- a very, very funny film written and directed by Nat Hiken.

Hamid said...

Graham Norton in the UK is easily the best late night chat show host here. Granted, his is not a 5 nights a week show but every Friday night, but we've never had nightly chat shows in the UK. Norton's format is to have a couch and three or four guests on at the same time. Virtually every Hollywood star who's been on has said it's the most fun they've had doing a chat show.

For anyone who's unfamiliar with him, there are lots of full episodes on Youtube. One of the best was when he had Will Smith, Bradley Cooper, Heather Graham and Michael Douglas on the same show, and a few weeks ago he had Stallone, De Niro, Carey Mulligan and Jonah Hill on.

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

All good points. On the topic of Fallon lacking Carson's, I guess will call it "grown-up-ness", it's worth remembering that Carson too was quite boyish in those first years. Obviously later he was sort of a paternal figure, but lest we forget that he opened HIS first show by saying "I want my Nana."

D. McEwan said...

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was the pinnacle of Don Knotts's movies, the more so because he's only in 4 minutes out of its 3 hours. For me, the less Don Knotts, the better. No Don Knotts at all is the best of all.(Although, there is much to be said for The Apple Dumpling Gang, where he's teamed with Tim Conway, and they turn out to make a good comedy team.)

I would hardly think hating Tom Shayles needs explaining. I'm amazed there's anyone who likes him.

OK, Letterman is a cranky old man. But you know what? I'm a cranky old man too. The hip-hop dance bit might have been for Martians for all it said to me. I fast-forwarded through all the musical numbers and once Will Smith hit the couch, hit Fast-Forward again. Them young kids (You know, them punk 40-year-olds) can and are welcome to enjoy him. I'll be sticking with my demographic, and continuing to watch Letterman (And Stewart & Colbert).

As for the "I go to bed too early" or "These shows are for just before going to bed" comments; Hello? 30 years ago, sure. But we have DVRs or VCRs now. Who watches TV shows as they air anymore, and why? You can't fast-forward through commercials live. I just never watch TV as it airs anymore. Letterman is my wake-up show, generally followed by Stewart & Colbert. "I can't stay up that late" no longer constitutes any kind of excuse for not watching late night shows. The real reason these days can only be: "I don't want to watch them." That's fine. No one is required to watch TV at all (except the writing staff of The Soup), but let's be hoonest about why. If you wanted to watch them and couldn't stay, you'd record them.

Gary said...

To D. McEwan and his opinion of Don Knotts, all I can say is "NIP IT! Nip it in the bud!!"

Liggie said...

Totally agree with Hamid about Graham Norton. I'd like to see his format ported to US late-night shows: a two-minute monologue, all the guests on the couch together and playing off each other, some Ellen-esque stunts or games with the audience, and a musical guest at the end.

I haven't seen Jimmy yet because the Olympics have priority, but if he's had some stumbles he'll get better in time. I remember when Conan first stumbled out of the gate replacing Dave, and none other than Tom Snyder said "Relax, he'll get better." Fair to say Conan has.

Of course, trying to compare these talk-show hosts is apples to oranges. The major networks and Conan aim for as broad an audience as possible, Stewart and Colbert focus on politics, Arsenio (at least Arsenio 1.0) aimed at young people and African-Americans, and Charlie Rose just talks with one guest and films at a table without an audience.

Another possible FQ (hope I'm not annoying you with these). Why would a a talk show feature a guest on another network? I saw Leno (NBC) hosting a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars" (ABC), and "The Talk" (CBS) hosting Stana Katic of "Castle" (ABC). Why give airtime to your competition's talent?

myrna said...

My husband and I watched about 5 minutes of Fallon's second show. The problem was the monologue, which was neither sharp nor funny.What came to mind was the scene in "My Favorite Year" when King Kaiser complains to the writers about a smell...it's coming from the script...it's the monologue..."

Greg Ehrbar said...

Don Knotts was in only a few minutes of "Pleasantville," too, and was only on camera for about 15 minutes of "Mr. Limpet."

Speaking of Limpet, where are the festivities for its 50th anniversary celebration?

Ladyfish said...

Pinnacle of Knotts was Limpet!

Anonymous said...

He seems like a very nice boy but he doesn't offer anything I want to watch. He will still probably be a success. The bar has been lowered so far how can he not be?

Harry Lewis said...

Fallon will do fine. He's likable to all age groups and not controversial, as far as we know. He's done some very good comedy bits and his lapdog attitude to celebs will fade over time.

Plus, moving the show to NY makes it impossible for much of a reverse decision.

Still wondering how Seth Meyers will do -- and even WHY he got the gig. He never seems to come across as "himself" in interviews, and he's been claiming that he's never interviewed anybody. His smug fratboy demeanor may go to the wayside like Conan's did, though Conan's irritating voice has also cost him in popularity.

As for Shales, didn't he write "Live from New York?" Wouldn't that make him a pal of Lorne Michaels. Wouldn't that explain the excessive praise for Fallon? Perhaps he could have concealed it better with a less superlative phrase.

So much for journalistic integrity. But that faded away long ago, especially in the entertainment reporting industry.

Ted said...

Judging by the tone of our comments, Fallon will be cancelled in a week.

Actually, the first few months (even the first year) of the show should be considered the exhibition season. To quibble about the jokes on episode 1 seems a little strict.

I think he's very cool, and very funny. Like Ken says, he'll be fine.

Phillip B said...

When you do catch up with Tom Shales, can you ask him why his Twitter handle is @TubbyTitmouse?

Alan Light said...

Philip, Haha - TubbyTithouse = Tom Shales does not surprise me. His email address is "Fatass" @ -----.com He knows he is heavy, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Tom Shales fawns over anything SNL. It's a personal blind spot.

Pat Reeder said...

Since I write topical humor for radio, I have to watch all the late night shows, to make sure we don't inadvertently repeat a line they did the night before. My favorites are Conan (he really knows and cares about pop culture history - who else would've done a whole show with Mel Brooks saluting Sid Caesar? - and bits like Triumph the dog and the ghost of the racist 1940s band singer are surreal works of genius) and Craig Ferguson (the adult Pee Wee's Playhouse; the most naturally funny, quirky and intelligent host in late night. I saw him in Dallas last weekend, and he kills live). And Kimmel now has the best topical monologue.

Fallon seems like a nice guy, and I enjoy his impressions and song parodies. But overall, he comes across as too much of a lightweight frat boy to host "Tonight." His topical monologues and sit-down bits have never been very well-written or delivered, and he's not very well-read or a witty ad-libber or conversationalist like Allen, Paar or Carson. Sorry, I think the Roots are overrated (is it a law in New York that every guest has to fawn over them before the conversation can start? That gets really tiresome). I think he would've made a perfect daytime host in the Art Linkletter's House Party days, playing games with the audience and giving away free Rice-A-Roni. He reminds me of Ernie Kovacs' description of a daytime host running up and down the theater aisles, wearing a ladies' hat and popping balloons with a flyswatter.

BTW, I'm reading the new book about Carson by his attorney. At one point, he mentions that in 1978, Carson's average nightly audience was 17.3 million viewers. Last season's "American Idol" finale drew 14.3 million.

Mike Barer said...

It would have been a balsy move to pick Jon Stewart, but don't think I would have worked, his satire is good, but his interviewing people is where he loses me.
I like Jimmy Fallon, I hope this works out. The problem with Leno is he had nothing new. It looks like they are retooling the show to match the times. I also think that Leno, like Letterman stayed too long. There was a time when Leno was really doing well. It's too bad he didn't see the writing on the wall when things stopped working.

Barbara C. said...

I want to be a third to give a shout out to Graham Norton; I watch him on BBC America. His is the only talk show I watch. I genuinely crack up through almost every single episode. The interplay between the mix of American and European guests is a joy to watch.

RCP said...

Canda said...

"Modern guys are more sensitive and attuned to others feelings, part of the success of feminization in child-rearing."

Don't fret, Canda. Plenty of boys are still being raised to belch, scratch their asses, shoot or hit things and shout down anyone whose opinions they don't like. And those conversations!

Foaming Solvent said...

"Actually, Greg Ehrbar, "The Love God?" was the pinnacle of Don Knotts movies -- a very, very funny film written and directed by Nat Hiken."

Interesting fact about "The Love God" - the tall redhead is transsexual Aleshia Brevard. Her autobiography is funny and fascinating.

Cap'n Bob said...

Bill--I stand corrected. I was confusing his musical guest with someone else's. No matter, I'm not a U2 fan, either, other than the spy plane.

mmryan314 said...

I agree Ken that Fallon won't be around for the next 20 years but he wasn't bad. You need a nut job who is willing to throw himself against a Velcro wall ( who can forget that) to last that long. Gotta love Dave and his great Presidential moments bits as well.

DwWashburn said...

Tonight is not targeted for me (I'm 60) and that's OK. If I'm in the mood for TV at midnight, I can always watch either Colbert or use my DVD library. And if I wait until 1AM I can watch Boomerang.

I hope Fallon does well. He seems like a nice guy. With this logic, I am ambivalent to Letterman, and hope that Kimmell and O'Brien crash and burn.

VP81955 said...

In today's society, alas, "gravitas" = old white males. Watch any local or national TV newscast these days...informal to a fault.

What I'd like to see a late-night show have the guts to do is not to schedule guests who have a new film or series or CD to plug, but have something interesting to say -- by that, I don't necessarily mean opinions on the issues of the day, but good raconteurs, people who can appear on the show every few weeks and not wear out their welcome. That's the overlooked secret behind Jack Paar's success, as he had several such guests as semi-regulars, and something Carson followed to some extent in his New York years (though there's no reason a Los Angeles-based show couldn't do it too, if the host has enough authority to overcome the network brass). A show that tried that angle might set itself apart from the crowd.

I agree Letterman has lost some of the energy that made his NBC and early CBS show so much fun, and sense that Leno is more at home as a stand-up than as a host. To me, Ferguson's the one to watch out for; he well could go in an unpredictable, Paar-like direction when and if he gets an 11:30/10:30 Central gig.

Oh, and regarding Don Knotts films, let's not forget "The Shakiest Gun In The West," or at least not forget his stunningly statuesque co-star, Barbara Rhoades (Bob Hope and Jane Russell, the next generation).

Pat Reeder said...

VP81955 said: "What I'd like to see a late-night show have the guts to do is not to schedule guests who have a new film or series or CD to plug, but have something interesting to say."

I agree with you that Craig Ferguson is the one to watch for something like this. He occasionally throws out the format to spend a full hour talking to someone like Stephen Fry. He warns the audience that tonight won't be the usual "cheeky monkeys" show, and if they don't want to listen to an hour of conversation about science, religion and literature, then just go to bed and tune in tomorrow.

BTW, did you have to mention "The Shakiest Gun In The West"? Now, I'll have that theme song from the trailer running through my head.

A_Homer said...

Interesting how Fallon pointed out to Seinfeld his "Comedians in Cars" with Leno was like a master class in comedy. I think Seinfeld figured out, less gives you more.

The moribound Tonight show format just became a bunch of 'less' segments intended for uploads, rather than any continuity in one show.

What a difference in formats: In order to keep the larger numbers, Tonight Show gets blander and lighter each version (in which Conan was just not right for that plan) to the point Fallon's opening mission statement (paraphrase) was to just get you to have fun so you can sleep better. And there is no interview until halfway through the show, so basically it's him doing things. Fallon amounts to a walking Selfie, his fun is lite, his interviews dissolve into him laughing about his last sentence and so on. He giggles and swerves to avoid any direction where potential shades of thought might be lurking.

Meanwhile Stewart and Colbert developed a different format, something unique, yet able to maintain continuity as it even cultivates great spin-offs (Colbert himself) creative writers and the like. The format belongs to an era I can recognize as closer to now. Even if "in character" so what, that matches the way most people live their lives on social networks too.
As for Craig Ferguson, he exemplifies a show that is twice as long as necessary. He's really hyped, but quite limited in the end of the day. Runs out of steam after halfway mark. After all this time, it developed to nothing but a limited format as well, a play with camera angle, some stage props, and he also looks too self-centered and constipated with the interviews. It's that cynical all-about-me factor that is so over now.

Waves of Gray said...

Did you ever like Letterman, and don't you think the great Johnny Carson himself mostly phoned it in after the Carter administration?

Dave Arnott said...

While it's clearly too early to tell, I think Fallon is likely gonna be a big winner. I'm watching this week out of curiosity... and that'll likely be it for me (I haven't regularly watched any of the late night shows for years now). Also, Fallon does not really make me laugh.

But he strikes me as genuine and sincere. And I think that's great timing for 2014.

His introducing himself to his audience - and bringing his parents along - was such a smart move. As was going to U2 early in the show to capture the NY skyline at dusk. I don't really care one way or the other about U2, but that was still kinda magical.

Yeah, he might not have gravitas right now (or ever get it)... but I'm not sure how important that is anymore. When I mentioned timing before... NONE of the late night hosts - even Leno, IMO - come across as pleasant people to me. There's kind of a cynical edge to all them, which is not to say that they aren't funny. Kimmel has some great bits... and Stewart and Colbert are just so good, occasionally breathtakingly sharp and funny.

I think Fallon recognizes that he's more in the mold of Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin. He's also one thing that none of the other late night guys are: a sketch performer. So he can be sweet in a way none of them can, and he's versatile. And since that's who is he, it's great to see him embrace that and not try to fit into what Late Night is "supposed" to be.

Again, do I think his show is funny? Not really. But hey, his show was likely not gonna be for me, anyway. That doesn't mean I don't admire all the choices those guys have made so far.

As a viewer: eh.
As NBC: I'd be very happy.

John said...

People forget that after the debut of Aresinio's original show and it's success, SNL did a skit around 1991 of Johnny and Ed trying to mimic that show in an attempt to connect with the kiddos. The vibe of the skit was "Get outta here, old man!" which may not have been a surprise, since Johnny didn't think much of Lorne's show when it first came on in 1975.

The aptitude testing scene featuring Don Knotts in 1958's "No Time for Sargents" was the pinnacle of his movie career. Played off some guy name Griffith, and they seemed to have good chemistry together. Wonder if they even did anything else with each other?

Dumb RockGolf said...

John: I checked and found out that yes, years later Griffith and Don Knotts worked together for a few episodes of Matlock!
I wonder if they even remembered being together on that movie.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I agree that there are not only guests that lack the art of conversation, there is actually a dearth of good guests period.

They say about the same things, usually scripted, talk about the vacation they took, what it's like to work with so-and-so or how they got in shape. You can have a more interesting conversation with an employee at Wawa.

Most of it is, as many stated, totally scripted and robotic.

I used to watch every Letterman and every Ferguson, then watch the others when they had interesting guests. The guests are getting less interesting and the schtick is getting repetitious.

Now I check them all for guests first. When they book someone interesting, instead of someone that has been overexposed or has nothing to say, I watch. The other guests are out there, if they would just book a wider range. At least Ferguson books writers and offbeat people for his last segment.

Speaking of Ferguson, I think he revels in being under the radar and doing what he wants to do. He might be miserable at 11:30.

-------------------------

And yes, "Shakiest," yes, "Love God,"

But neither of them used Bon-Ami.

Kirk said...
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bill said...

"People forget that after the debut of Aresinio's original show and it's success, SNL did a skit around 1991 of Johnny and Ed trying to mimic that show in an attempt to connect with the kiddos. The vibe of the skit was "Get outta here, old man!" "


The skit was that Carson had changed his name to Carsinio and had a similar style of hair, except his was gray.

Cap'n Bob said...

So last night I gave Fallon another go. The monologue was weak but had a couple of laughs. Then they did some crappy bit with newsman Brian Williams rapping. This was dome by a barrage of flash cuts while some rappers made their noise in the background. I can't abide either rapping or flash cuts so I switched the TV off.

And stay off my lawn.

MikeN said...

So why dump Leno in he first place? Were they scared Fallon would leave for another network?

Leno was #1. ONE.

Now we'll see if Fox gets its affiliates to drop the syndicated shows, and give Leno a show. We can find out if it is NBC booking great guests or Leno who's bringing the ratings.

Mike said...

Good host would be George Wendt.

DwWashburn said...

MikeN -- Why did NBC ax Leno even though he was #1? This is the same network that thought remakes of Ironside, the Bionic Woman, and the Munsters were good ideas. They're not exactly known for good schedule decisions.

Austin in Japan said...

I just watched the first 5 minutes of Fallon on the first Tonight Show on Youtube. To me he comes across being too soft. He doesn't draw the audience in and hold their attention. He starts off introducing everyone. I would have started off with a skit, "The Life of Jimmy Fallon", and used celebrities to play the part of his parents, high school teacher, etc. This would have been a lot more entertaining.

Dale said...

Who is Tom Shales???

sophomorecritic said...

Yes but Will Smith is someone that anyone 20-30 is familiar with and grew up on. Just like the Full House guys were on Fallon. Billy Crystal is a generation or two before that

D. McEwan said...

Yes, Leno was number 1 overall, but it's all about demographics. Does he pull in the viewers advertisers want? (Males 18-39.) Clearly the answer to that was no.

Kirk said...
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Kirk said...



I'm sure the ageism that got Leno canned is real, but there's no substance to it. We really don't have the type of Generation Gap we had in the 1960s. Sure, young people still listen to different music then older people, but back in the '60s it was Rock vs Big Band. Today it's newer Rock vs. older Rock, not quite the same thing (and I consider Hip-Hop a kind of Rock, if no other reason than a few acts have gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) Also, there's no political partition as far as I can tell. Iraq may be this era's Vietnam, but support for or against doesn't seem to divide along generational lines. Let's face it, there's this one decade not quite in the middle of the 20th century called the 1960s. If you grew up before then, you're used to one sensibility, if you grew up after, you're used to another. (as for those who grew up DURING the 1960s, well, I don't know, maybe it divides up between the early and late parts of the decade.)

I'm 52, outide the prized demographic, yet I really don't believe people within it grew up in a radically different culture from me. Go watch an R-rated comedy from thirty years ago if you don't think so. Younger guys like Fallon and Kimmel are just doing the same kind of shtick that Carson invented and Letterman tweaked a bit.

As for Don Knotts movies, I vote for "The Reluctant Astronaut" not so much for Knotts but Arthur O'Connell as his gung ho military vet of a father.

Floridan said...

Comparing Fallon to Carson is like comparing Clayton Kershaw to Lefty Grove. Yes they play the same game, but there have been enough changes over the years to make a one-to-one analysis suspect.

Fallon is no Carson, but Carson couldn't be Carson today.