If the debut of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Monday night was auspicious for anything, it was for two things: its breadth of celebrity cameo appearances and the depth of humility and sentimentality displayed by Fallon, who now holds the reins of one of television’s longest-running and most iconic franchises.
Otherwise, Monday’s episode was more evidence of the challenges facing all media competing for the attention of audiences who are deluged with more content than ever.
Fallon has moved the show back to New York, its original home, from Los Angeles, where it had spent the previous 40-plus years.
He celebrated its homecoming in the opening credits, created by Spike Lee, one of New York’s diehard denizens. He opened with a sentimental pre-monologue, thanking his parents, who were in the audience, and humbly honoring the show’s storied heritage.
“I just want to do the best I can,” he said. “And take care of the show for a while.”
He then re-took the stage and delivered a standard late-night monologue, one filled with plenty of corny one-liners about the topicsde jour
, including the Olympics, which are being aired by his network, NBC.
Then came the show’s first skit: a parade of celebrities raining $100 bills on Fallon, many of them New Yorkers or stars with ties to the city: Joe Namath, Rudy Guliani, Mariah Carey, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga and several of Fallon’s “Saturday Night Live” alums, including Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan and Seth Meyers, now the host of Fallon’s previous show, “Late Night.”
After that, there was little to write or tweet home about.
Fallon and his first guest, Will Smith, engaged in conversation that was much ado about nothing and a skit about hip-hop dancing that, like too many “SNL” skits, wore out its welcome. It was more of the same and typical late-night fare -- amusing but hardly riveting.
Music will be a major attraction for Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” starting with his house band, the Roots, who command respect from the the most discerning music fans.
His first music guest was U2, a superstar band whose reputation and legacy now exceeds its relevance to the music world. They performed a new song, “Invisible,” on the rooftop of Rockefeller Center, framed by the skyline of Manhattan at sundown.
Later, as they gathered inside around the couch by Fallon’s desk, they performed “Ordinary Love,” accompanied by the Roots.
That was the “moment” of the show and one worth watching, though not one likely to go viral today and through the week via YouTube or Facebook. It’s somewhat ironic that the passing of the “Tonight Show” baton from Jay Leno to Fallon occurred a little more than a week after the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first apperance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” another iconic New York TV show.
That was a real moment in television and pop-culture history, one that will forever be remembered by anyone who watched it.
Fallon’s version of “The Tonight Show,” rebooted to attract a younger audience, isn’t likely to generate that kind of splash or hype, no matter who shows up and showers him with cash.