Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Let’s Hope Jimmy Fallon won’t be Failin’

The worst kept secret finally saw the official light of day , or in this case light of night, late night. NBC held a press conference to announce Jimmy Fallon will replace Conan O’Brien when Conan takes over ‘The Tonight Show’ from Jay Leno next year. Will it work out? Who knows? Saturday Night Live alumnus have had three shots at late night. Chevy Chase, a horrible failure, Dennis Miller, a late-night network TV failure, but rallied back with a respectable HBO show, and Conan O’Brien, a late-night success

A relative unknown SNL writer with little to no on camera experience O’Brien’s first few months were shaky at best. NBC considered pulling the plug, but wisely didn’t. Conan found his goofy grove and began to crank out the kind of nerdy-quirky late night fare that made Letterman a star with stoner college kids across America in the 80’s. I think Jimmy Fallon will fit that role nicely, since he seems to still be that quirky college kid that other quirky college kids will be able to relate to. Unlike Conan, he has a performance background, which means he should hit the ground running with sketches and impressions.

Jimmy Fallon shouldn't sweat the inteviewing part either. The most over criticized part of a talk show is the hosts interviewing skills. The critics constantly praise Letterman and pan Leno for their abilities to handle guests. Most Hollywood types are windbags who love to talk about themselves constantly. Just throw out a sentence and let them go, the host need not be the star of the interview, just let the guest ramble on with a fabricated story about how their precocious five-year sneaked away from the nanny, the housekeeper, the gardener, and the poolboy, then jumped into the driver side of the blue Lamborghini and took it for a quick run down Mulholland Drive. Thankfully no one was hurt. After the host fakes a hearty belly laugh, he pulls it together to ask the guest to set-up the clip from his latest inane project.

When it comes to interviewing, less is best. Why do you think Letterman and Leno always want to have Robin Williams on. They ask him how he’s been and he goes all retard for the next twenty minutes, no follow-up questions needed. They just have to restrain him long enough to break for commercials.

Fallon needs to make sure the monologue is tight. Most late night shows have ten to twenty writers each, they should be able to nail the monologue every night, but they don't. Leno used to have a top-notch monologue when he first started, but now it’s always the lowest common denominator stuff. You can see the punch lines from a mile away. He’s dumbed it down for the average American, and it works in terms of ratings. He also goes too long with the monologue. He will have two to three really funny, really clever lines a night, and the rest is just filler. If he cut down the monologue by say 30% the whole thing would seem much sharper.

Letterman’s monologue isn’t any better, but he is smart enough to keep it short. I think Conan’s is even shorter than Lettermans. Jimmy Kimmel has the right idea, a few jokes interspersed with clips from TV shows that he comments on. Leno has stolen this format from Kimmel in the last year or so.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out two years from now. Leno has lead Letterman in the late night ratings for over a decade. Even when his writers were still on strike and Letterman’s were back to work, he beat Letterman.

There will be a bidding war going on for Leno services once he parts company with NBC since he generates a billion dollars in ad revenue a year. The most likely bet would be ABC, where Leno will own on his show and have input on what goes on after him, much in the same way Letterman does now. I see Leno doing five years on ABC with Kimmel pushed back to follow him at 12:30.

Is anyone going to miss anything about Nightline, besides that MILF Cynthia McFadden? Once Leno finally retires Kimmel will take over at 11:30. On CBS , the future isn’t so clear to me. Who knows how long Letterman will go? I guess it depends on his health. I see him going at least five more. Craig Ferguson is making inroads at 12:30, he’s ever beaten Conan a few times. But, I’m not sure he is the air apparent to Letterman.. To me, Steven Colbert is a perfect fit when Letterman goes.

Stayed tuned.

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