Fallon makes ‘Tonight’ debut on Monday

WASHINGTON – Jimmy Fallon steps into some pretty big shoes when he takes the reins of “The Tonight Show” on Monday night, and at least one observer thinks he can fill them just fine.

Matt Roush, entertainment editor for TV Guide, tells WTOP that Fallon can follow in the footsteps of Jay Leno, Johnny Carson and other “Tonight” hosts, although he may do things a little differently.

The Fallon-led “Tonight” is “going to feel very new; it’s going to look very new,” Roush says, most obviously in the venue: The show is headed back to New York, where it had roots under the leadership of Steve Allen. Allen, Roush says, is “a personal hero” for Fallon, “for the fact that he shook things up in late-night television.”

Roush thinks Fallon can shake things up too.

“I think that he’s got the goods. … He can do the music; he can do the comedy. It’ll probably feel more like a variety show than a talk show in some regards. His strength is not the monologue, unlike Jay Leno; it’s not the interview; it’s being a full-bore entertainer.”

That said, Roush adds that the change won’t be as sharp as when viewers went from David Letterman to “Conan O’Brien showing up acting all goofy.” Still, Fallon’s stunt- and skit-laden aesthetic adds “a very ‘Saturday Night Live’ sensibility to a lot of what he does,” Roush says – a change from the Leno groove.

NBC is pulling out all the stops to get Fallon off to a good start, Roush says. Fallon’s first week of shows will each begin a half-hour later, at midnight, after NBC’s Olympics coverage.

The guests are going to be huge as well. Fallon will open with Will Smith and U2 on Monday and close his first week with old pal Justin Timberlake on Friday. They’ve been together on the old Fallon show and on “Saturday Night Live” during Fallon’s tenure there, and Roush says, “Those two together – there’s a big-event kind of feeling about that.”

The star power doesn’t stop there – midweek guests include First Lady Michelle Obama, Jerry Seinfeld, Lady Gaga and Will Ferrell. “It feels really like a sweeps stunt week,” Roush says. “The thing is to put this show on the map, to re- establish it as a new show.”

Of course, Fallon faces stiff competition for the late-night young audience, most notably from Jimmy Kimmel. “It’s going to be an interesting battle to observe over the next couple of months,” Roush says. “It’ll have both of them sharpen their game. … Both do very well in the world of viral video, but the challenge is to get people to actually watch you in real time.”

Meanwhile SNL alumnus Seth Meyers is taking over Fallon’s old timeslot. Roush calls Meyers “an unknown quantity,” and says that so far his guest list is “a bit more eclectic.” The big question, he adds, is “Whether he’s going to be able to handle it as a performer, taking center stage for a whole hour five nights a week.”

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