'Tonight Show' dawns with Jimmy Fallon as host

Promo for the 'Tonight Show' with Jimmy Fallon in New York. (YouTube)

Promo for the 'Tonight Show' with Jimmy Fallon in New York. (YouTube)

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:47 PM ET

The biggest problem Jimmy Fallon faces as he takes over The Tonight Show is that we don't know what we want.

By “we” I mean the viewing public. We do not speak with one voice. And the loudest ones aren't always the wisest ones.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon debuts Monday, Feb. 17 on NBC and CTV Two. Fallon is the sixth full-time host in the history of the franchise, and his first guests will be Will Smith and U2.

Like Conan O'Brien, Fallon has been promoted from his hosting gig on Late Night. O'Brien, as you'll recall, was criticized for not appealing to that unofficial and burdensome thing known as “middle America,” and he lasted less than a year in The Tonight Show chair. There were many factors at play, but Fallon anticipates no such shenanigans this time.

“I don't think anything sneaky is going on here, anything shady,” Fallon said. “I trust everyone involved. NBC has been totally behind me the whole way through and I think this one is going to work.”

Wisely, Fallon already is anticipating the ups and downs of the first few months.

“I think we'll do great during the Olympics, because we'll have that lead-in, with the Olympics (on NBC),” Fallon said. “And then when Seth (Meyers debuts on Late Night, Feb. 24 on NBC and CTV), that will keep things up, because people will be excited to see Seth.

“After that, I know the headlines are going to be, 'Oh, (ratings for The Tonight Show) are down 40%, oh my gosh.' But it's just that we won't be following the Olympics any more. Eventually we'll settle into where we're going to be, which I think will be pretty good.”

So what will “middle America” make of Jimmy Fallon? Remember, the people who currently make up “middle America” are five years younger than the people who made up “middle America” when O'Brien took over from Jay Leno in 2009. Five years can make a big generational difference in terms of outlook and attitude.

What I mean is, traditional viewers of The Tonight Show might be more open to Fallon in 2014 than traditional viewers of The Tonight Show were to O'Brien in 2009. And on top of that, I don't think it's outlandish to suggest that Fallon has more of a “mainstream” vibe than the quirky O'Brien ever did. That's not a value judgment one way or the other, just an observation.

Fallon essentially confirmed his mainstream approach when he commented, “Whoever comes on my show, I'll make you look good. That's my job. If you want to set the record straight, we can do that, too. But my job is to make you look good.”

But is that actually his job? That's just like us – the viewing public – never knowing for sure.

We're always better at identifying what we don't like instead of what we do like. So good luck with us, Jimmy Fallon. You're a likeable guy and I wish you well, but we are a fickle bunch. And we don't have a clue what we want from you.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca


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