Jimmy Fallon is not a Millennial. At 36 years old, he is firmly in the camp of the Gen Xer—but you wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking him for a member of the more optimistic, less-cynical generation when watching his takeover of “The Tonight Show.”
Fallon could be the first late-night host to appeal to the Millennial audience. His first week as host brought in the highest viewership since Johnny Carson’s farewell broadcast in 1992, and over 10.4 million people tuned in for Fallon’s debut. The average viewer age was brought down by almost six years, thanks in part to Millennial viewers. Nothing about the long-term future of his audience can be determined yet, but he’s already in a better position than most to lure Millennials to late-night TV. Here are just some of the reasons that Fallon may be the Xer who will Millennialize late night:
1. They’re actually excited for
Throughout his first week, one of the biggest differences between Jimmy Fallon and his predecessor became clear: Millennials are excited for Fallon, and they’re celebrating his show. His premiere resulted in a slew of blogosphere output chronicling and complimenting moments of the first show, like “The 35 Best Moments From Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ Debut” post on BuzzFeed, and UPROXX’s effusive comments on the premiere. Clearly, Millennial writers and viewers are pro-Fallon, and excited to see where he will take the show, and each post was a mini-commercial for other Millennials who hadn’t witnessed it live to tune in next time.
2. He plays with viral.
Clips from Fallon’s “Tonight Show” continue to be featured on curation and Millennial-focused entertainment sites, often thanks to his ability to play with viral content. Fallon didn’t create the original (massively viral) “Evolution of Dance” clip, but his own “Evolution” skits inspired by that original have become viral vehicles in their own right. The “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” he performed with Will Smith during his first show last week has garnered over 12 million views. Continuing to create content that plays off memes and can be gleefully passed around the internet is just another appeal to the Millennial audience, many of whom consider the internet their collective playground.
3. His is the nicest kind of
Fallon is unendingly positive and effusive, an attitude that feels more welcoming to optimistic and hopeful Millennials than the “crankiness” that some other late-night shows provide. He also steers clear of meanness when it comes to both his guests and his audience. In a continuation of his “Hashtag Conversations” sketch, this time with Jonah Hill, Fallon avoided making fun of people who use hashtags, instead making himself a part of that group, saying “Jonah and I are both big into Twitter. We tweet a lot.” Compare this to Leno’s recurring “Jaywalking” bit, in which he asked 20-somethings questions about current events to showcase their inability to answer simple trivia. The Millennials in these spots were the punchline, and the intended audience clearly the older-generation viewers who would be shaking their heads at the young and uneducated. Fallon’s approach is one that embraces Millennials rather than mocks them—and they might be ready for the respite.
4. He’s a fan of their pop
Millennials are endlessly nostalgic for their youth, and in that they have a soul mate. Jimmy Fallon is obsessed with ’90s pop culture, an unabashed fan boy who has become known for using his position as a late-night fixture to indulge his love of the shows Millennials love. On “Late Night,” he had Mark-Paul Gosseller appear as Zach Morris and passionately tried to reunite “Saved By the Bell” on his show. He had Tom Hanks perform spoken word about “Full House”. Already on “The Tonight Show,” he’s done a creative homage to “Rapper’s Delight.” Fallon doesn’t just deliver nostalgic content that speaks to Millennials’ own childhood, he revels in bringing that content back to life for them—and they love it.
5. He gets people to take themselves less seriously.
Millennials have a tendency to reject celebrities and brands that take themselves too seriously. Fallon is able to make fun of himself in a way that Letterman and Leno never could, but he’s also able to get his guests to step off their pedestals, and have fun while they’re at it. The skill is already coming in handy, and producing clips that, yes, are getting plenty of attention from Millennials online. He has had Bradley Cooper play charades with Emma Thompson, and Kristin Wiig appear as Harry Styles for an interview. The irreverent and more playful environment being fostered makes it more likely for Millennials to tune in to catch some meme-able moments.