JIMMY’S ‘ROMPER ROOM’ MENTALITY WILL RENDER ‘THE TONIGHT SHOW’ COMPLETELY UNRECOGNIZABLE
By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2014 — No one in their right mind would describe Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” as sophisticated, but it’s sure going to seem that way when it is compared to what we’re in for when Jimmy Fallon takes over.
Fallon’s “Tonight Show” takeover, which starts Monday night, represents a high-profile triumph for the forces of immaturity. He is the embodiment of the Peter Pan mentality that seems to have gripped a generation of young men for whom childlike pranks and games are the most important things in life.
Not satisfied with simply talking to his guests, Fallon is like a hyperactive child with ants in his pants who always seems on the verge of leaping from his chair. Maybe that’s because he simply can’t wait for the fun-and-games portion of the show, when he will force some hapless guest to race him down a back hallway in a go-cart, join him in an egg-smashing contest, or get drenched with a Super Soaker.
Since Fallon has insisted repeatedly — without apparent embarrassment — that he plans to basically do the show he’s been doing when he assumes his “starring” role on “The Tonight Show,” then we can assume he plans on turning “The Tonight Show” into some kind of late-night version of “Double Dare.”
Warning to anyone sitting in Fallon’s “Tonight Show” guest chair: You might get slimed.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with having fun on a late-night show. But the key to success in late-night, among other things, has traditionally been the host’s — and his support personnel’s — skill in balancing their show’s more manic portions with the quieter segments, which, generally speaking, are the celebrity-guest portions.
One could argue that the celebrity interview portions of the late-night shows are often the dullest parts of the shows, but that all depends on the guest and the interviewing skills of the host.
David Letterman happens to be good at this, and Jimmy Kimmel does a fair job as well.
No one will ever accuse Jay Leno of possessing interviewing skills on par with Barbara Walters, but Leno made his celebrity guests feel relaxed and comfortable and the segments seemed tailor-made for the half-hour after midnight when a great chunk of his viewing audience was closing in on bedtime.
One of Fallon’s problems is that he seems incapable of carrying on a conversation with a guest that consists of anything more than Fallon fawning all over him (or her). As a result, he relies heavily on back-hallway footraces to relieve him of the apparent torture of talking to somebody.
The last thing any late-night viewer needs is to be suddenly jolted into full wakefulness by a grown man — Fallon — suddenly breaking into a water balloon war with Tom Cruise. Sure, this stuff seemed to go over well with Fallon’s audience at 12:37 a.m. perhaps because they were on the younger side and not particularly put off by Fallon’s “Romper Room” mentality.
But “The Tonight Show” is not “Romper Room.” Traditionally, “The Tonight Show” has been a show by and for grownups — not old people, just mature ones. I suppose it’s asking too much to hope that Fallon, who’s 39 for heaven’s sake, will grow up by Monday night.
Contact Adam Buckman: firstname.lastname@example.org