Last night Jimmy Fallon presented his first ever Tonight Show, replacing still-popular host Jay Leno and moving the show from Los Angeles to New York. In a country where the majority of the younger TV audience tune into Graham Norton or Jonathon Ross over our home-grown shows, The Late Late Show and The Saturday Night Show, it’s difficult to really comprehend how big and how competitive ‘Late Night’ talk shows are in America.
We have *deep breath* David Letterman (CBS), Jimmy Kimmel (ABC), Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central) and Conan O’Brien (on another cable station, TBS) all swinging for a majority audience at 11.30pm. At 12.30am, there’s incumbent Saturday Night Live stand-out star Seth Meyers and Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson, who will follow Fallon, who has followed Letterman for several years; not only that but one of the best of the bunch and easily the most influential, Jon Stewart, who anchors The Daily Show at 11pm - before his pal Colbert turns the satire up a few notches a half hour later. Keeping up?
That’s a packed schedule, without a doubt, and pretty much every single network or cable station claims victory in some form or another. Conan has the youngest audience, Stewart the most educated, Letterman the more discerning etc. But the fact of the matter was that for that many years, the bland, shamelessly broad Jay Leno was destroying all of them in the ratings - including long-time rival, David Letterman.
Now, with Jimmy Fallon, NBC feel that they have a star on their hands, who will retain the vast, Middle-American audience that tuned into Leno every night, but also pull some of the younger crowd from Conan and Colbert. How likely is it that? Well, Fallon’s biggest competition doesn’t come from either of those guys, or the legendary David Letterman - it comes from Jimmy Kimmel.
See Kimmel has that cool factor; he started off on radio before graduating to The Man Show with best bud, Adam Carolla, but was still pretty much plucked from a cult cable audience by ABC to go to war with talk show giants Leno and Letterman, who’d really just had each other to worry about for years. Slowly Kimmel gained an audience, and crucially he did it on his own terms, pushing the comedic boundaries of what audiences expected from Late Night shows - offending and winning fans in equal measure. He also hired superb writers, and had a large number of sketches go crazy viral; something an actual sketch show, Saturday Night Live, had found difficult to do, despite the talent on hand.
Fallon is a talented, likeable host with a musical gift utilised wonderfully by his team and the network. But, and this is merely this writer's opinion, Kimmel's monologues are far superior and he’s not afraid to take the piss out of guests, always looking comfortable no matter the size of the name sitting across the desk. It’s no surprise to learn that Kimmel is a huge fan of Letterman and pursued him for nearly a decade to appear on his show - which he finally did a year or so ago. Fallon has time to refine his style, but he’ll need to do it quick before the migration to ABC.
There’s also the impending retirement of David Letterman which is surely closer now than before Leno was forced to call it a day. His favoured replacement? Jon Stewart. Now that would really mix things up…