Sometimes, it's important to mention when you were wrong ... and, especially, when you were right.
I was right about thinking Conan O'Brien made a big mistake by rejecting the "Tonight" compromise -- Jay Leno telling jokes at 11:35 p.m., Conan doing "Tonight" at 12:05 a.m. -- that NBC offered. When he moved to cable, he dropped from b road public attention.
But I was dead-wrong about my doubts a bout Jimmy Fallon hosting late-night. The guy is a natural, simply because everything is easier for him: He doesn't have to force or fake anything; he's genuinely fond of people, comedy and (especially) music. Now he takes over "Tonight" in its 60th year: Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
This may be the ideal test for a talk-show host: Go talk Tom
Cruise into busting an egg on his face.
Jimmy Fallon did, which is why he may be a natural for
taking over “The Tonight Show.”
The idea was “egg roulette” – a dozen eggs, only three of
them soft-boiled. Cruise and Fallon would take turns busting them on their
foreheads; the first with two soft-boiled ones loses.
“His publicist said, ‘No, absolutely not,’” Fallon recalled.
“I go, ‘I am going to talk to him. This is a talk show; that’s what I do.’”
It is; he’s the talk-to-anybody guy. At “Saturday Night
Live,” colleagues would shy away from the music guests; Fallon would boom in,
chatting with the Rolling Stones and others.
Other talk hosts, from Johnny Carson to David Letterman, have
been considered shy or distant offstage; Fallon is not. At 39, he remains the
cheery Irish kid from suburban New York, chatting easily.
“Jimmy’s the least exclusive comedian I know,” said Josh
Lieb, who is producing Fallon’s “Tonight” show. “He really does want to include
the entire country in his (late-night) conversation.”
He’ll talk to anyone – and talked Cruise into the egg stunt.
By coincidence, Cruise got the soft-boiled ones on his first two tries. “He’s
covered in yolk,” Fallon recalled. “I started laughing …. He’s like, ‘Why would
I ever do the show?’ …. And now he’s a friend of the show; he’s been back
He had joined a tradition that goes back to when late-night
TV began 60 years ago. “It was all about being fun and silly and goofy,” Fallon
said. “Steve Allen was the first guy to sit in a plate with ice cream and
pretend he’s a banana split and get chocolate syrup all over him …. It should
be goofy and fun.”
That view has varied among the late-night masters. Carson
and Jay Leno focused on the verbal – long monologs and sit-down desk routines.
Conan O’Brien has shorter monologues, plus short stunts and sketches. In his
early years, David Letterman would try anything.
And the new guys? Seth Meyers – who will follow Fallon,
beginning Feb. 24 – is verbal, known for writing and delivering the “Saturday
Night Live” newscasts. “We are very excited to get out there every night and do
jokes about the news, topical jokes,” Meyers said. “We want to have a really
Fallon – who is moving the show back to its old base in New
York City -- is a sketch-stunt guy. However, Leno told him late-night fans want
“He said, ‘You have to make your monolog longer,’” Fallon
recalled. “Because at one point, we were doing a … four-minute monolog. And he
said he was doing around 10 or nine minutes.”
Fallon has been working on that, but the other parts come
easily. There’s music, a personal passion. On his final late-night show,
Falloln played with both Buckwheat Zydeco and the Muppets; U2 will be his first
“Tonight” music guest, followed by Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw, Arcade Fire and
And there’s conversation and such. Will Smith will be the
first guest; there may or may not be some silliness of the egg-breaking,
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” debuts
First week, during the Olympics, starts at
midnight. Beginning Feb. 24, it will be at 11:35 p.m., with “Late Night With
Seth Meyers” following at 12:35 a.m.
Opening-night guests are Will Smith and U2.
Then: Tueday, Jerry, Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Lady Gaga; Wednesday, Bradley
Cooper and Tim McGraw; Thursday, Michelle Obama, Will Ferrell and Arcade Fire;
Friday, Justin Timberlake.