Jimmy Fallon’s first week as host of The Tonight Show
is his own personal Super Bowl. While it’s important that it is as successful as possible, it’s not likely to be
representative of the weeks to follow. Though Fallon will undoubtedly be this week’s MVP of late-night TV, we’ve yet to see where he will rank as time passes.
My bet is
that he is going to do rather well.
Monday’s Tonight Show
will put everyone involved in a good mood —it would be churlish not to be pleased when 11.3 million
people tune in for a show starting at midnight. The question going forward will be: How much of the first night's audience can he retain and how many more can be drawn in?
midnight air time may have lost him some viewers, but the lead in from the Olympics (although less than NBC originally hoped for) and the fact it was his first show undoubtedly played in his favor.
Although NBC is banking on Fallon bringing in a younger audience than Leno, it's clear that they are going to work hard to retain as many of Leno's viewers as possible. A first night
featuring U2 hardly suggests a rush to an exclusively millennial audience. And his first week guests —Will Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama to Will Ferrell, Justin Timberlake
and Bradley Cooper — cross the spectrum of generational appeal.
Even if the line up isn't as stellar every week, I'd be amazed if we didn't see a continued emphasis on names
that make for a broad appeal.
But to my mind it's Fallon himself, his style and humor, his team's brilliant use of social media and his all-round refreshing amiability and wit, that
will help attract and retain a broad-based audience. He's a likable, funny guy.
Above all, his humor tends to be more inclusive and less snarky or mocking than his predecessor. Unlike
Conan, whose undeniable talent and quirkiness requires you to “get it” and buy in on his terms to be part of the crowd, Fallon is more like your 2-year-old puppy with boundless energy and
inquisitiveness: eager to please, affectionate and fun to have around. Hence, his cross-generational appeal.
Sitting as he does on the cusp of the GenX/millennial generations
(he’s a few years too old to technically qualify as a millennial), he’s attuned to the mind-sets of both. Plus, with boomer parents, he’s been attuned to those sensibilities from day
one. In generational terms, he’s potentially a perfect candidate for the job.
But it’s his ability to be a cipher for enough people across both generations and to evolve
into the Tonight Show
host that the post-millennial generation (plurals) grow up with that will determine his success.
Because while his flair for parody, his
self-deprecating wit and comedic invention both on TV and online is already proven, ultimately he won't be judged on his ability to front an entertaining show and to make us laugh. It’s
going to come down to how far and fast his first week's ratings drop and where they level off. Then it will be about how they set about pushing them back up the hill. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
will be worth watching for several reasons.