The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon began in the same way Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ended. Yes, it is a new studio, a new set, and a more realistic live viewing time slot. Yes, The Tonight Show is a more prestigious and honored cultural institution than Late Night (with all due respect to Conan and Letterman before him), a legacy that Johnny Carson built in his thirty years as host. This is absolutely a big deal, but as Jimmy Fallon’s first pre-monologue graciously gave reverence to his Mom and Dad sitting in the audience, to the Roots and their adaptive musical brilliance, to “announcer” Steve Higgins and his great friendship, to the lineage of hosts that came before him, to his wife Nancy and his baby daughter, Winnie Rose, and to both his loyal viewing audience and to those that may find their way to him now that he is on at an earlier time, it was Jimmy’s emotional generosity that once again set the tone.
From his beautiful Muppets performance of “The Weight” to end Late Night to this gracious and personal opening act, Jimmy Fallon’s greatness stems from his unabashed willingness to open his heart to his audience. In his first Tonight Show couch interview with Will Smith, Jimmy was his usual, self-effacing self. Discussing the incredible line of friends (more on this in a bit) who lost a faux $100 bet that Jimmy would never host The Tonight Show, Will Smith, perhaps the last real movie star still standing, turned to a humbled Fallon and said, “People are coming because of your heart.” Amen, Fresh Prince.
Some highlights from night one of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon:
• An incredible array of friends came to wish Jimmy well (and pay up for doubting the possibility of his new hosting duties). Robert De Niro. Tina Fey. Joe Namath. Rudy Giuliani. Mariah Carey. Tracey Morgan. Joan Rivers. Kim Kardashian. Seth Rogen. Lindsay Lohan. Sarah Jessica Parker. Mike Tyson. Lady Gaga. Stephen Colbert. Could there possibly ever be a more diversified group of honored guests?
• Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith presented “The Evolution of Hip Hop Dancing.” The degree of sweating says everything.
• If you are going to begin your time on The Tonight Show with a big musical guest, book U2. The high point comes at 9:16 when the Edge begins an acoustic performance of the wrong song.
Tonight’s show features Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig, and Lady Gaga, so there’s pretty much every reason to watch. I am rooting for Jimmy Fallon.