Jimmy Fallon debuted as the host of “The Tonight Show” last night, replacing the lantern-jawed Jay Leno, who finally had the decency to shuffle off into that good night.
Leno, you may remember, held on to that job with both hands, thwarting the succession plan that was to put Conan O’Brien in the slot after he paid his dues at the “Late Night” desk. But in 2010 NBC made a last-minute audible that saw O’Brien eventually dock at TBS, of all places, and Leno keep his throne.
That was after the very public 1992 fracas between Leno and Dave Letterman, who also had his sites set on the “Tonight Show” desk that at the time belonged to Johnny Carson, when Leno swept in and Letterman ended up at CBS.
At this date in history, it’s hard to imagine the late-night talk show as a cultural powerhouse. The desk. The couch. The nighttime skyline as a backdrop through a window on set. The banter between host and bandleader. As a trope, it’s played. In my opinion, anyway. I haven’t watched late-night TV with any regularity since college.
It’s hard not to feel good for Fallon, who seems more in the mold of Carson and Steve Allen: A genuinely nice and funny guy, amazed and humbled by his success. I could go on about his character and talent, but this New York Times piece sums it up nicely.
Read it after you check Fallon and Will Smith in overalls demonstrating a history of hip-hop through interpretive dance.