TV: The State of Late Night

Next month sees Jay Leno depart The Tonight Show for the second time.

This tectonic shift in late night television will see the show return to New York City for the first time in more than 40 years, returning to its ancestral home of Studio 5B in Rockefeller Centre. Along with the location change, current Late Night host Jimmy Fallon will take the reins of one of the greatest franchises in television history.

Fallon who has a background in improvisational and stand-up comedy will – from all reports, continue doing similar things to what he has done for the last five years on Late Night.


Passing the torch, Leno and Fallon (photo: nbc)

The biggest change will be a longer opening monologue, a hallmark of The Tonight Show. Under both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, the around 10 minute monologue set the mood for the show, and condensed the days news into joke sized bites of politics, sports and entertainment. The monologue has been an important element of the show for over 50 years, it could be argued that to be a great host, you need to be quick, smart and most importantly; be able to deliver a good monologue, you can get away with not being the best interviewer, but the monologue is a deal breaker. 

When Conan O’Brien briefly took over the show in 2009 he also extended the length of his monologue and reduced the amount of time doing ‘desk pieces’. The issue there, is he was never the strongest at delivering monologue jokes, but rather at sketches and pieces shot remotely, not to mention having Leno’s lengthy monologue preceding him on his short-lived primetime variety show.

I shouldn’t think Fallon will struggle when it comes to this, his nervous and jumpy persona seems to give him a strangely unique way of delivering one-liners, and it won’t feel like he is ‘doing Jay’. His biggest issue is still interviews, but as we saw with Jay Leno’s lack of interview abilities, it shouldn’t hold him back.

I believe Fallon will be able to do what Conan couldn’t in the short time NBC provided him, appeal to a wider audience. His audience is slightly older than Conan’s already, which either reflects network television’s dated audience, or his ability to hold on to more of Leno’s older viewers.


Can Seth Deliver? (photo: nbc)

The biggest question over the movement at NBC is whether the new host of Late Night, Seth Meyers will be able to stand out in an already crowded late night market. From the outset it looks as if he will be attempting to do something different to Letterman, Conan and Fallon before him and bring more political and news based comedy to the table. This may work, or it may not appeal to a wide enough audience on network television. 

The next few months will be interesting, especially as to how NBC will stomach potential audience losses and changes – and whether they will hold out and give their new hosts time to work out their kinks before pulling the plug prematurely, like before.

Published by

Mike Beckham

Mike Beckham resides near Melbourne, Australia.