Child's Play: Fallon Is Winning Late-Night Wars With Kiddie Games

The children have taken over late night.  And there’s nothing we grownups can do about it.

For one thing, late-night’s leading problem child, Jimmy Fallon, is not a child at all. He’s 40, but he often acts like he’s 14. 

A segment seen this week on “The Tonight Show” was a case in point.  Actor Jake Gyllenhaal came on the show to talk about his new movie, “Nightcrawler,” in which he plays a nocturnal freelance videographer who peddles crime-scene footage to local TV stations in Los Angeles for use on their newscasts.

Gyllenhaal also talked about his sister, Maggie, who’s currently in a Broadway play -- Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” -- and his own upcoming play, “Constellations,” opening in January, also on Broadway.



As these kinds of interviews go, Gyllenhaal was pretty interesting. It was fun to listen to him talk about his sister and how much he admires her talent. And as one who has long followed -- and written about -- local TV news, I was very interested in hearing about his new movie and watching the obligatory clip.

This portion of Gyllenhaal’s guest appearance with Fallon represented about half of his screen time on “Tonight.” As the show went to a commercial break after this first half was over, Fallon made the kind of announcement I have come to dread: He would be back shortly with Gyllenhaal, at which time the two of them would take turns soaking each other with water.

Since these kinds of immature hijinks hold no allure for me, I tuned out and abandoned “The Tonight Show.” This happens often –- every time Jimmy grins idiotically and announces that the next segment will have him and his guest racing around the halls of "30 Rock" with go-carts, or playing some game in which they’ll break eggs over each other’s heads.

He played this egg game just about two weeks ago with Bradley Cooper and I thought at the time: Isn’t this a shame that “The Tonight Show” has to waste precious time with some stupid egg game with a guest like Bradley Cooper? Cooper’s an interesting guy (the “Hangover” movies notwithstanding), and I’d much rather hear what he has to say about his life and work than watch him crack eggs over Jimmy Fallon’s skull.

But I am evidently in the minority. Not only is Fallon firmly in first place in the late-night ratings wars, but these games he plays with his guests play well in the coveted “after-market” of late-night TV shows -- the Internet. For example, the portion of the Gyllenhaal interview in which he talked about his sister got a little over 200,000 views on YouTube. Subsequently, Jake’s water fight with Jimmy had more than 542,000 (as of midday Friday).

With strong ratings and YouTube views, it’s no wonder that Fallon is encouraged to continue engaging in these childish games with his guests, who, incidentally, are aiding and abetting him by agreeing to participate in the first place. Perhaps they and their handlers feel their willingness to put themselves in situations in which they look foolish will enhance their images, particularly among the younger viewers who watch “Fallon” and are as immature as he is.

Of course, all of this game-playing and go-cart racing relieves Jimmy of the responsibility of having to interview someone -- which is a skill he doesn’t actually possess (although he could possess it if he only worked on it a little bit). 

Next year, on a date still to be determined, David Letterman will leave late-night TV and turn over his “Late Show” to Stephen Colbert. At that time, the generational changeover in late-night TV that began when Jay Leno left “The Tonight Show” last winter will be complete.

Colbert happens to be 50 -- an age in which it would seem difficult to get away with the kind of childish behavior that Fallon has made his stock in trade. That means we can hopefully look forward to a Colbert “Late Show” in which the host acts his age.  Is this too much to ask?

And really, how much longer can Fallon continue acting like a child as he gets up into his 40s?

Here’s some advice for Fallon: Grow up already.

4 comments about "Child's Play: Fallon Is Winning Late-Night Wars With Kiddie Games ".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 31, 2014 at 2:21 p.m.

    Advice to author: Grow down.

    I'd rather see people get ratings by doing this than with the political or reality crap we see.

  2. Philip Moore from Philip Moore, October 31, 2014 at 2:23 p.m.

    Really? The "interviews" on these shows are typically just promos for whatever project is coming out next. If you want an interesting interview with an actor, there's a show on Bravo called Inside the Actors Studio. The Tonight Show is going to win because they've realized the best most they can accomplish in the seven minutes they have for any one guest is a demonstration of their humanity.

  3. Harry Hutt from Hutt Sports Marketing, October 31, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.

    Holy cow Adam, you have the nerve to call Fallon immature? Its obvious you haven't watched the most immature of all, Letterman, with his Stupid Human Tricks, and his animal mumbo jumbo, etc. Oh, he's not 40, he's 60 something. Oh, and his (Letteman) "interviews" , after the obligatory " tell me about your movie" stuff , are totally full of immature stuff. It sells Adam, But obviously you don't know anything about rating points correlating to CPM's and millions of revenue. Watch Charlie Rose is you want an interview. Oops, he doesn't get enough rating points to be on network TV. Funny how that all comes full circle.

  4. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, November 2, 2014 at 8:42 p.m.

    Harry beat me to it. Letterman blazed this trail decades ago. Letterman is possibly a glimpse of what to expect as Jimmy matures into his golden years. Here's some advice for you: Lighten up. There's something wonderful about seeing famous people drop the glam act and get into the trenches with a grown up kid. You call it childish. The rest of us call it child-like. Is there anything more honest than the startled laughter of a guest when the catapult finally releases the cream pie into their face? It's the purest glimpse into their true selves. I for one enjoy it.

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