Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jimmy Fallon Can't Reinvent the Late Night Wheel

I've been watching late-night talk shows for a very long time. When I was a kid, I would join my Grandma on many an evening in front of the TV for a nightly dose of Johnny Carson (near the end of his reign), David Letterman (when he had more hair) and Tom Snyder (before his show went off the air and he died). We didn't have cable, so I became quite an expert on late-night network TV.

Over the years, the names and formats of these shows have remained fairly constant, but the hosts have evolved significantly. I remember when Jay Leno took over for Carson (I've never been much on Leno) and when Conan took over for Letterman (I liked Conan immediately--before he was cool). I remember when Craig Kilborn took over for Snyder (I loved his "In the News" segment and didn't realize it was a holdover from his "Daily Show" days) and when Craig Ferguson took over for Kilborn (Call me crazy, but Ferguson is funny). Just when I thought no one could offer anything new to the post-prime time scene, Jimmy Kimmel came to town and I was hooked.

I hope I can one day say the same for Jimmy Fallon, but I don't think that day will ever come. It's completely unfair to judge someone on their first performance and I only watched about 15 minutes of last night's debut, so I'm not going to critique that. (For the record, I will say that having Robert DeNiro as the first guest just so Fallon could do an impression of him was probably not the wisest move. Fallon was so nervous that the impression wasn't that good and DeNiro was as wooden as ever. You could actually see Fallon sweating through his makeup during the interview. I hope future episodes will bring out Tina Fey or someone else who can help him scrub the blood out of the carpet.)

Even if last night's episode had been a masterpiece, I just don't think that Jimmy Fallon has the personality to make a dent in the late night talk show lineup. If you think about each of the hosts listed above, you are probably also thinking about a certain persona that they brought to their show. After spending several years in the public consciousness on SNL, Fallon still hasn't really established an intriguing persona. He talks fast. He breaks up and breaks character in sketches. He plays the guitar and sings. He does a few impressions. But none of those characteristics convince me that he is a worthy heir to the throne of Conan or commanding enough to steer a show of his own in a new direction.

Many talented would-be talk show hosts have tried and failed. This column seems to think that sheer determination can get Fallon through. I disagree. If you don't bring something new to the table (beyond Twittering with your fans), you're going to sink like Wayne Brady and Martin Short before you.

I like late-night talk shows and I want this to work. But I don't think it's going to. What say you?

1 comment:

Heck said...

O Craig Kilborn, where have you gone? I loved that song...I forgot how much I loved it!

Craig Ferguson is awesome...

And I have very faint memories of that Tom Snyder guy.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane!