Say hello to a younger, cooler (ish) Tonight Show

When Jimmy Fallon dethrones Jay Leno, it’ll be from Rockefeller Center, not Burbank. Here's why the move to NYC—and the new host—are so important to the program’s future.

Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon Photograph: James White/NBC

In contrast, Fallon is a more natural heir to Leno—a safer, less controversial choice. He brings a youthful energy to the time slot, a welcome counterpoint to crosstown curmudgeon Letterman, but he's also the guy your mom won't turn off because she thinks he has stupid hair. What's more, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has been an ideal template for a modern Tonight Show: populist without being self-deprecating, cheeky without being vulgar and chummy with guests without being fawning. Fallon's knack for musical numbers and impressions proves he’s an old-school entertainer, and he delivers biting jokes with the playfulness of a teething puppy. He can get gushy with the folks on the other side of the desk, but hopefully that will fade once he sees his guests as peers, not heroes.

Safe doesn't have to mean boring, though, and Fallon has stuck to his strengths. In his 12:30am slot, he kept the monologue short and sweet. The capable staff of writers could furnish a lengthier set of jokes, but why bother? Between Twitter, BuzzFeed and The Daily Show, the news is thoroughly picked over by the time 12:30 rolls around. Instead, Late Night made the smart choice to become The Tomorrow Morning on Hulu Show.

The Roots and Sesame Street with Jimmy Fallon

The Roots and Sesame Street with Jimmy Fallon

The inventive sketches and musical numbers (made possible in part by house band the Roots, the best live group on late night) pop up on social media more frequently than any other show's clips—even nonwatchers are probably familiar with "The History of Rap," or Stephen Colbert performing Rebecca Black's "Friday." Fallon may not be a digital native, but he knows that your YouTube hits should outnumber the cars in your garage. No contemporary television program can generate the ratings of the Carson-era Tonight Show, but Fallon has done the next best thing: He's broadened Late Night's audience to as many people that don't actually watch the show as possible, and that’s an amazing feat of writing and production.
And so the torch will be passed once again. The move to New York is a clear vote of network confidence in Fallon as the future of late-night comedy—or it’s all part of executive producer Lorne Michaels’s plan to unite (with SNL and the new Late Night with Seth Meyers) a Triforce of late-night programming, destroying his enemies with a sword forged from the bones of charming white male talk-show hosts. Either way, we'll probably have something to bond with our parents over, and that’s actually a good thing.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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