Upheaval in Late-Night, Part 2: Nice Guys Finish First

Fallon

On Monday night at 11:35pm on NBC, Jimmy Fallon will reverse the long-held truism that you have to sell out to get ahead.

Five years ago, Jimmy Fallon took over for Conan O’Brien as host of Late Night. O’Brien went on to host The Tonight Show for nine months, until a complicated and unfortunate series of circumstances forced him to abandon his post, collect a tidy sum of money and hightail it to TBS, where his show has hummed along at a consistently acceptable ratings pace.

Meanwhile, Fallon kept his mouth shut. He claimed he was just happy to be where he was. He did what Leno never did – he messed around. He showcased his musical talents and invited his celebrity guests to share in his passion for silliness. He experimented with big-budget parodies of popular TV shows. He cracked an egg on Tom Cruise’s head. He rapped the hits with Justin Timberlake once, then twice, then twice more. He slow-jammed the news with Brian Williams, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. He incorporated social media more deftly than any late-night host before or since. And he had a lot of fun.

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Upheaval in Late-Night, Part 1: The Workhorse Rides Off Into the Sunset

Leno

I grew up with Jay Leno.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been an avid fan of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve watched it regularly, periodically or even intermittently. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I find Jay Leno funny.

That’s beside the point. Every weekday that I’ve been alive (barring holidays, the occasional vacation and the 9-month Conan-induced hiatus), Jay Leno has appeared on TV at 11:35 every night to tell jokes about the events of the day. Have those jokes been funny? Has he gotten better with age? Has he innovated within the late-night playground he inherited in 1992 from the legendary Johnny Carson? No. He’s simply written some jokes, delivered them, sat down with some celebrities, introduced the musical guest, said goodnight and disappeared until the next night, when he did it all over again.

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