Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Tonight Show - Goodbye, Jay, Hello Jimmy


I was not a regular viewer of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but as I do with many monumental television goodbyes, I did tune in for his final week (as I did the last time he left the show ... this time it's for good) and enjoyed a collection of great, funny and touching moments with celebrity guests and finally, a very heartfelt, teary goodbye from the man himself, who was signing off as host for the last time after nearly 22 years (his tenure began on May 25, 1992).

I had the pleasure of seeing Jay and the show live with my dad, and I'm glad to have had that opportunity.  The Tonight Show is moving back to New York after almost 40 years, leaving us LA folks with local, live late night fare from Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Arsenio Hall and Craig Ferguson.

Jay was only the fourth person to host The Tonight Show, following Steve Allen, Jack Paar and the legendary Johnny Carson (who held the position the longest, just shy of 30 years).  Conan O'Brien took over briefly (less than a year) in 2009 when Leno moved his show - unsuccessfully - to 10 p.m.  The following January Leno was back behind the desk.  This time he is leaving for good, and it's been a much more amicable exit, with Leno getting along very well with new host Jimmy Fallon and passing the torch with grace and dignity.

Unlike his fellow hosts, Jay worked solo with no sidekick (Johnny had Ed McMahon, David Letterman has Paul Shaffer, Conan has Andy Richter, Jimmy Kimmel has Guillermo Rodriguez, Jimmy Fallon has Steve Higgins) and was not one for outlandish comedy, like impressions and skits.  He did establish gems like "Headlines" and "Jay-Walking."  But as he said, it's time for the next generation to take over.

As with The Tonight Show, I have not been a regular viewer of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which ended its 5-year, 969-episode run last night.  I did watch his two-hour best-of special and got an idea of the type of comedy his show does.  It's much sillier with lots of sketches, impressions, and music played by Fallon himself (he plays guitar and drums).  He gets his celebrity guests to do a lot of outrageous things and there's no shortage of Fallon cracking up (he was known for doing so a lot on Saturday Night Live).  But he definietly has fun and seems to appreciate his good fortune.  He has also expressed numerous times his gratitude and humbleness over being chosen to succeed Leno, and you can tell he really takes pride in the history of The Tonight Show and vows to carry that on ... bringing back a type of comedy that more closely resembles Carson than Leno (Fallon is even bringing back the word "starring" in the title, as it was with Carson).  I wonder how much of his current Late Night bits he'll bring over (meaning I wonder if NBC will have a say in what stays and what goes).

Fallon's sidekick, as I mentioned before, is Steve Higgins, who I learned while watching the final Late Night episode was a writer/producer on Saturday Night Live during Fallon's tenure.  The man was thrilled to hear Fallon had been chosen to take over LN from Conan and will be moving to TTS -which will tape in the larger studio right across the hall from the current LN one - with him.

In any case, this seems to be a much better transition than the one before (sorry, Conan), and I look forward to seeing how this new late night regime will carry out.

The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon premieres Monday, Feb. 17 at 11:30 pm on NBC.

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