Jimmy Fallon: no ax to grind in late night

NBC executives seemed keen to showcase Jimmy Fallon at the recent television critics press tour. The former Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor is passing into the rite of late night manhood by hosting Sunday’s 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards (NBC, CTV, 8 p.m.). Beyond that, with little fanfare (and staying smartly under the radar), he’s done a pretty good job at something that went horribly wrong at NBC last season–hosting a late night talk show.
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has reversed the trend that has seen the older, established talk shows grow older in terms of audience. Fallon, at 35, has brought younger viewers into the mix, giving NBC some hope that they haven’t completely wrecked their late night future.
I spoke with him about the Emmys and other things at NBC’s press tour party, where he cheerfully engaged with reporters and hobnobbed with NBC execs. I wrote more about Fallon’s Emmy emergence today for The Canadian Press. You can read that story here, including the amazing story of the day David Letterman dropped by his studio and gave Fallon the late night equivalent of the blessing from the Pope.
Fallon repeatedly made the point at press tour that he is Switzerland in the late night wars, that he bears no grudge and holds all in high esteem. To that end, I put a few names to him at the NBC party and asked for a top-of-his-head response.
Johnny Carson
Class. Respect, respect for the business. He’s a really classy dude you look up to–that guy, he did it right. I grew up with him; my first memories of late night are Johnny Carson and Saturday Night Live.
David Letterman
Again there’s a respect. Fearless. He tried new stuff and changed the game.
Conan O’Brien
Perseverance. He stayed in the ring when people were trying to knock him down. He got back up and proved that he was funny and awesome and really someone to look up to. No matter how bad it gets, it’ll never get as bad as when people picked on him. He stayed in the ring and he did it.
Jay Leno
One of the hardest working people in the business. And the guy is ruthless, he’s crazy, he works every weekend, does stand up, it’s insane I’ve never ever met—Tina Fey worked really hard, wow, Tina Fey worked really hard. We would do “Weekend Update.” The night before, I would leave and she would stay until two, three in the morning. She would never complain, she’d sit there with a ski hat on, sweat pants, typing, whatever, a cup of soup next to her coffee.
Lorne Michaels
One of my favourite human beings on the face of the earth. He’s again class all the way. Very class act. Taught me to think before you speak–think quickly, of course. What you say, it means something. He comes to every show.
He goes through my monologue, changes it—he’s a great comedy mind who’s seen it all. He thought of Conan before anyone thought of Conan.
Craig Ferguson
A mensch. Very funny. During Shark Week, he wanted me to do some commercial with him. We did it and I think it turned out funny.
Jack Paar
Jack Paar is fantastic. That is a great conversation he’s having back in those crazy old time slots, an hour and a half to fill. Ed Ames tomahawk chop. He goes to grab it. Johnny Carson’s hand comes down, “[AS CARSON]Oh no. I’ve got an hour and half to fill. We’re milking this laugh. We’re going to milk this because we’ve got time to kill.”
The TV Academy has prepared a clip of Fallon rolling out the red carpet for Sunday`s bash. You can watch that below. Also, if you want to help Fallon introduce some of the big name star presenters, tweet him your one liner here. Jimmy Fallon: tweeting his way into late night history.

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