BEVERLY HILLS, CA–Jimmy Fallon says he learned a valuable lesson from Conan O’Brien’s bruising Tonight Temp experience. “Hosting Late Night,” he says, “is a one way ticket to NOT hosting the Tonight Show.”
So true. Both of Fallon’s Late Night predecessors, David Letterman and O’Brien, sought and were ultimately denied the Tonight prize.
Fallon was in L.A. to promote the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards, which he hosts Aug. 29. He was also there to take a bow for surviving a year as host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The former Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor drew praise from many critics for keeping his head down and putting on a fun, innovative show despite all the turmoil in late night over the past season.
Fallon was saluted by one Canadian critic for the graceful way he marked O’Brien’s departure on-air. Immediately following O’Brien’s final Tonight, Fallon’s show followed with the host crossing the hall in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza to O’Brien’s old Late Night digs (now Dr. Oz’s studio). While The Roots played “Voice to the Man,” he poured a 40-ouncer of Scotch onto the floor of the stage.
It was a classy move, putting Fallon exactly where he appeared to be at this press tour–well above the bitterness that stained the bungled Tonight transition. “We wanted to do something respectful because it’s true, if it wasn’t for Conan, I wouldn’t have this job,” says Fallon. “He kicked butt for 16 years, 17 years, whatever, and then I came in. So I owe him a lot. So we just want to treat him with respect.”
Fallon’s executive producer Mike Shoemaker says they felt the impact of the Leno/O’Brien fallout swirling around them, but were able to stick to the day-to-day task of putting a show together.”It didn’t really affect what we had to do,” he says. “If you can’t control it, you just kind of keep going.”
Fallon says the job has been a dream gig, especially the week he got to hang with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. “That was one of the most surreal weeks of my life, just doing comedy with Mick Jagger.”
Fallon says persuading notoriously prickly Jagger to just go with some out there comedy ideas turned out to be no big deal. “He’s, like, ‘Why am I yelling?’ And I go, ‘Because you are funny when you yell.’ He’s like, ‘All right. I don’t get it, but…'”
Fallon’s Jagger impersonation really put the story over with critics, especially when he talked about getting Jagger to joke about selling out and sponsorship. “He was like, ‘I don’t want to do this joke about KFC Double Down.'” said Fallon. “I go, ‘Trust me. You just saying that you like KFC Double Down will get a laugh.’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t think so.’ I go, ‘Mick, why are you fighting me on this? I swear, this will — just try it.’ So he did it, and everyone laughed. He was like, ‘The Rolling Stones will not sell out unless it’s for a KFC Double Down. I mean, it’s two chicken breasts with bacon in between. Come on, man. That’s crazy, crazy delicious.”
|Fallon (centre) with bosses Angela Bromstad and Jeff Gaspin|
Fallon was generous in his praise of late night rival Craig Ferguson, who he called a “friendly, positive, funny dude.” The two men have a mutual admiration, with on-air shout outs and Ferguson recently tweeting “man hugs” to Fallon.
Then again, Fallon doesn’t have a bad thing to say about anybody. He was great in the post session scrum, waving off the NBC publicist who tried to prematurely yank him off the stage. When he finally did have to go, Fallon told all he’d see us over beers at the NBC party. He was a man of his word, staying late at that event and remaining friendly and accessible throughout. He seems to be the Golden Boy among NBC senior executives, who got their kids next to the host for photo ops and happily sang his praises when approached. After the year they’ve had with the other guys, why wouldn’t they love this kid?