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Fallon's First 'Late Night'

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  March 3, 2009 12:09 PM

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The Roots were good. And Robert De Niro was a good sport. And Justin Timberlake does good impressions of John Mayer and Michael McDonald. And Van Morrison is good at mumbling song lyrics.

Alas, I don’t have much else that’s good to say about the premiere of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” early this morning. The NBC talk show wasn’t a legendary late-night train wreck so much as a train stalled between stations, going nowhere, filled with impatient passengers. I guess Jimmy Fallon was good at not being so bad he’d make it into the Chevy Chase Bad Talk Show Hall of Fame.

Fallon appeared nervous from start to finish, which is understandable given the inevitable first-night jitters and the pressures of stepping into such a high-profile gig. But throughout the hour, he failed to reveal glimmers of charisma beneath his anxiety -- the Fallon we might encounter on less nerve-wracking nights. With his wide eyes and soft voice, he was just kind of vacant, as blandly nondescript as his predecessor, Conan O’Brien, was present and sharp.


The material was notably lackluster, too. After a logy monologue with some generic political jokes, Fallon introduced “Slowjammin’ the News,” in which his forgettable lines were mashed-up with music and lyrics by the Roots, the house band. A segment called “Lick It for Ten,” for which Fallon brought three audience members on stage to tongue various objects for $10, was a bust -- neither a send-up of gross reality-TV challenges nor a funny exercise in itself. Did “Lick It for Ten” represent a show putting its best foot forward? I hope not.

As an interviewer, Fallon fell short, although he did set a major hurdle for himself by making the famously laconic and vague Robert De Niro his first guest. He stuck too closely to the loose scripting that had been established in advance -- a list of questions requiring one word answers from De Niro -- thereby limiting any chance for spontaneous banter. Fallon’s impression of De Niro to De Niro rang hollow, too.

The Timberlake segment was easier to watch. Timberlake is a more comfortable guest, and he and Fallon are friends, having worked together on the Barry Gibb Talk Show sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” Fallon egged on Timberlake to do singing impressions, which was amusing enough until we saw where the bit was going -- straight into a beer-label plug, with Timberlake singing a jingle in his Michael McDonald voice. So much for comedy for comedy’s sake.

Will Fallon improve? I hope so. Perhaps if the writers step up their game and Fallon relaxes, “Late Night” will find a groove. Maybe the producers should give Fallon a sidekick, someone with whom he can josh and tease. As it is, he seems like a lone deer in the spotlights.

Did you watch? Did you like the show more than I did?

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43 comments so far...
  1. I think your review is spot on. I have high hopes for the show and know Jimmy is putting his all into this so I think we will see a lot of improvement. You can only go up from last night right?

    With all that time to write the first show I am disappointed in his writers comedy sketches. Jimmy will find his groove though. I totally agree about the sidekick. He needs someone he is comfortable with badly.

    Posted by Jason March 3, 09 12:44 PM
  1. I didn't watch, mainly because I expected a train wreck. Don't get me wrong, I like Jimmy Fallon but this is a new kind of thing for him. Remember Conan's first YEAR? El sucko.

    I'll let him settle in a bit before making a judgement.

    Posted by Bob March 3, 09 12:48 PM
  1. Craig Ferguson has nothing to worry about.

    Posted by RK March 3, 09 12:56 PM
  1. It was a one hour cringe-fest. It's Chevy Chase all over again. And the Roots will quit before the summer. Mark my words. I can't wait to watch again tonight. It's like staring at a gory accident scene.

    Posted by DW March 3, 09 01:00 PM
  1. Tina Fey, who can do no wrong these days, may want to reconsider her appearance.

    In fact, that might make a good skit. Fallon comes on, tells his audience that he's gotten lousy reviews on his first show, and that, as a result, Tina Fey doesn't want to ruin her rep and will NOT be appearing tonight.

    The details can be worked out by his writers. I'm not getting paid, so why should I get more specific?

    Posted by Matt Talvi March 3, 09 01:01 PM
  1. You can't judge by one episode, I didn't watch it but remember these things. The show "Cheers" was the least rated show its first episode. Most critics felt Seinfeld would never work. Did anybody catch "The Office" its first two episodes, it was awful. All turned out pretty good. Let's hope Jimmy doesn't fall the route of Chevy Chase, but I doubt it, he'll be fine...........

    Posted by ed sargent March 3, 09 01:01 PM
  1. Call me a hater if you want but I have never found this guy funny and last night did nothing but confirm this. I don't think he will have this show very long and if NBC was smart they would start a list of people to replace him asap.

    Posted by Matt March 3, 09 01:07 PM
  1. Maybe Horatio Sanz? I'm sure he is available, and the two of them made each other funnier on SNL

    Posted by Dan March 3, 09 01:09 PM
  1. Poor Jimmy, maybe if he relaxes he'll improve, but I agree the writers really left him out in the cold. Craig F. however was his usual hilarious self, that guy's got talent and it's unlikely Jimmy will give him a run for his money.

    Posted by Dana Morgan March 3, 09 01:18 PM
  1. i thought the slowjammin' the news was pretty funny. his rest of his monologue was terrible. and he did look nervous, which is weird given his experience with LIVE television. the deniro interview was awful. i especially cringed when, after listening to fallon ramble on, deniro said "i'm not sure you just asked me a question."

    Posted by lisa March 3, 09 01:23 PM
  1. Spot on review, I like Jimmy and I wish him the best, but this schtick better improve or he's out. DeNiro was a bad choice for a first night guest, the lick thing sucked baaad, and the BL lime plug made me feel dirty. He seemed to lose focus a few times throughout the show as well, as you said, like a deer in the headlights. Not sure if a sidekick will improve this setup at all.

    Posted by Jeff March 3, 09 01:25 PM
  1. I tuned in from slow jamming and tuned out at the De Niro impression. Those few minutes I saw were terrible, but like others said the show could get better once they settle in, find out just what their strengths and weaknesses are. Wait a few years, because this isn't the time to judge, or even the time to think about a sidekick. Let's not give them the "brilliant" idea to have Horatio Sanz on the couch every night.

    Posted by Ben March 3, 09 01:31 PM
  1. Have to give it time. I like The Roots, but they might not fit the hip-corn mold late night bands have to take to supply comic support. Branford Marsalis refused to laugh on cue; Max Weinberg's running joke is that he doesn't laugh at all. The measure of success is the ability to get a few yucks out of unfunny material & uncooperative or boring guests. We shall see.

    Posted by Rixy March 3, 09 01:50 PM
  1. I will never understand why they would give Fallon a late night show to begin with. He had his moment on SNL, and that's that. There are a lot of people out there who can't stand watching him or the way he laughs at his own material. Honestly, when they announced this way back when, I thought it was a joke. I mean, no one really could think it's a good idea... unfortunately, it's no joke. You can't tell me they don't already have plan B in the works... if not, they get what they deserve.

    Posted by jimlin March 3, 09 01:56 PM
  1. I'm sure he'll settle down. Heck, Jimmy Kimmel was fall-down drunk (and Snoop Dog was passed out) during HIS first night as a talk show host!

    Posted by Jeff March 3, 09 01:58 PM
  1. Is Jimmy Fallon supposed to be a poor man's Carson Daly?

    Posted by mike March 3, 09 02:06 PM
  1. Please don't even bring up any comparison to Carson Daly. Daly is a TOOL of the highest order!!!!

    I watched and also cringed at the DeNiro "interview". But I think Fallon will get better. The writers need to step up their game and give him some better stuff to work with....the monologue and skits were lame-o! The Roots is a good band, but I don't know if they are the right band for Fallon. Again, it has to be given a little time to see if the chemistry develops.

    Posted by fishman1234 March 3, 09 02:45 PM
  1. Yes, get the advertisments out of the show... At the very least, Conan made fun of any product placements in its show in a self-deprecating way.

    I agree with the idea that the show was pretty bad, but may need a bit of time to loosen up and for the writers to learn how to develop good material quickly. The one thing that seems obvious is Fallon's show has no real identity yet, whereas Conan's show had a very specific vibe through and through all 16 years of the show - from the set to the sketches, to the band and the music they played etc.. If Fallon wants to continue the trend, he and his team need to find that style and unique voice that Conan was able to hash out over his years.. at this point, it truly is another crappy Carson Daly-esque snoozefest.

    Posted by Nate March 3, 09 02:47 PM
  1. One of Jimmy Fallon's major problems always has been that he finds his material funnier than the audience does. How many times did he threaten to ruin even mediocre "SNL" skits because he couldn't keep a straight face? There's something wrong when the biggest laughs the host is getting are his own.

    Posted by Rich March 3, 09 02:47 PM
  1. What is Arsenio Hall doin these days. Give him his show back. Jimmy Fallon is not funny. Never has been, never will be. He is just part of the watered down Saturday Night Live cast that hasnt been good since Farley died.

    Posted by Bud March 3, 09 02:49 PM
  1. Jimmy Fallon was so nervous, he made me nervous watching him! Not the send off to sleep I need nor probably most others... Slow jamming the news was the best, as was a tiny spot with Conan. The rest was awful in my estimate but it is only his first show. I really think the suits should have gone looking for a standup comedian with some timing. Jimmy Fallon talked over his guests and seemed to have zero timing. Here's hoping it gets better from here on out ...

    Posted by DDR March 3, 09 03:01 PM
  1. Give Jimmy a's his first night! Do you remember how awkward and uncomfortable Conan was his first few months? It was painful to watch.

    Posted by Chaz March 3, 09 03:23 PM
  1. I thought he did alright. He was clearly nervous, but it was his first show. Let the guy find his bearings.

    Posted by MattMedia March 3, 09 03:25 PM
  1. At least he's better than Carson Daly. I have always wondered who Carson is blowing to still be hosting that awful show?

    Posted by Lee&BigShow March 3, 09 03:29 PM
  1. If you had comment 20 in the pool of when someone would interject a "SNL hasn't been funny since ______" line... YOU WIN!

    Seriously folks, every SNL cast has crappy members and talented members. You just remember the old days as being funnier because you've been watching best-of segments for 20 frickin' years now. If you watch the whole tape on shows from the 70s, 80s and 90s, there are some real dog sketches on there.

    As for Fallon, this review is spot-on. Maybe he'll get better... maybe he won't.

    Posted by Newsdork March 3, 09 03:30 PM
  1. they need to call up Dana Carvey and get him out of retirement (or wherever the heck he's been) and give him the show he should've had 15 years ago.

    Posted by joe March 3, 09 03:30 PM
  1. I am not a big fan of Jimmy Fallon but I hope he gets fair treatment as Conan did for his first 3 years.
    Conan was virtually unknown when he started "Late Night". He wasn't even a comedian but a writer. And he received loads of brutally harsh criticism in his early years.
    There was no place for Fallon to have a successful launch. For god sake, he is up against someone who's been there for 16 years.
    So I want to see him for next 3 years to see how he turns out.

    Posted by Jimbo March 3, 09 03:31 PM
  1. Newsdork, you are right about the old days of SNL having bad sketches, but there would be at least ONE funny one per show. There isnt one good member in that cast.

    Posted by Bud March 3, 09 03:46 PM
  1. Jimmy fallon hasn't been funny for years. I see no way for him to succeed on Late night. They would've been better off going with a unknown or lesser known comedic star like they had done with Conan.
    Fallon is too divisive with his love him/hate him.

    Me personally, I will never forgive him for the atrocity that was fever pitch.

    Posted by doug March 3, 09 03:58 PM
  1. This assessment of Jimmy Fallon is somewhat unfair. While Chevy Chase's show remains a memorable punchline in television history, one thing Chase does not deserve is any comparison with last night's monumental debacle. Since Chase's program was canceled after two weeks in 1993, he has been remembered as arguably the worst late night talk show host in history. But how many comments does one hear about "The Magic Hour," which sustained only one week?

    Deflate Night with Jimmy Fallon may be the absolute worst hour of television I have ever had the displeasure of finding on network television. I have read several stories of network execs refusing to air shows that were not "network-worthy" programming (e.g. The Andy Kaufman Funhouse). And how many great television shows have we seen axed unfairly (e.g. Arrested Development)? Fallon's debacle should remind us of the endless ineptitude that is invariably demonstrated by network executives. Who would allow that program to reach the air? Do you think I would ever put myself through another hour of Jimmy Fallon, short of being tortured in the style of A Clockwork Orange?

    Entertainment has become too big of a business for its own good; competition is at its lowest thanks to a creativity-crippling oligopoly. How could the powers-that-be of NBC actually decide that Jimmy Fallon's program was worth programming -- not just on any night of the year, on an established program, but on the premiere night of a heavily promoted show? Chevy Chase deserves an apology. I deserve an apology. NBC does not deserve an F for their decision-making this week. I've seen plenty of Fs in my life, and I wouldn't degrade any one of them to the level of March 2009 NBC. The only silver lining will come when, hopefully sooner than later, "Last Night with Jimmy Fallon" has come to an end.

    Posted by wdm March 3, 09 04:01 PM
  1. I had to turn it off - I was embarrassed for him.

    Posted by Deborah March 3, 09 04:06 PM

  1. The worst thing that happened to Jimmy Fallon was reminding everyone of his awkwardness, lack of presence, and poor comic timing. I used to suggest Colin Quinn was the worst comic of all time, being that he doesn't understand how to time a punchline. But at least Colin knows that punchlines exist!

    My brain had made a crucial error in filing Jimmy Fallon under "Funny." Maybe its because so many images of him are alongside Tina Fey. Fortunate for Jimmy. But now I remember reality. After hours of thought, I don't remember a single funny moment of him. The only times I do remember are those when he ruined good sketches with verbal fumbles, slipped timing, and uncontrollable laughter. I can't wait for this show to be canceled. Remember who Conan O'Brien was in March of 1993? Nobody. Lorne Michaels and NBC made a terrible terrible mistake, and thought a "safe bet" would ensure success. Sure, Jerry Bruckheimer works with that formula. But Bruckheimer doesn't produce comedies. The truth is, "The Rock" had more funny moments than last night's debacle. Remember Sean Connery, "I'm only borrowing your Hum V," or Nicolas Cage, "Carla was the prom queen?" Well done, NBC. Bruckheimer films are funnier than your newest late night host.

    Posted by Billy March 3, 09 04:13 PM
  1. Hey Jimbo,
    Jimmy Fallon was not up against anyone who's been on TV for 16 years. He's up against Craig Ferguson, whose puppets and drag show suddenly seems the top choice at 12:35. I never found Craig Ferguson funny. But Craig Ferguson never put me through the pains I endured last night, watching Jimmy Fallon.

    86 Fallon.

    P.S. Conan was NOT as bad as this when he started. Go watch it again. "Lick it for Ten," and "Space Train," and "Slow Jammin the News," were three of the worst segments I've ever seen on television. Conan's sketches were never this bad. It's clear that Fallon's a big Letterman fan. But Dave bears a synergy and level of talent so monumental, that he can make "Will It Float?" a hilarious regular bit. The same way that Michael Jordan makes shooting three-pointers seem so simple, Letterman is not appreciated today for his level of ability. The "Dave Factor" could have made last night's material funny. Show me another comedian who could make "Is This Anything?" into side-splitting laughter. Dave can also make hilarity of the most boring, drunk, stubborn, or difficult guests. Jimmy Fallon sucks.

    Posted by Dave March 3, 09 04:21 PM
  1. Yeah, I watched and cringed during the first half hour then switched over to Forensic Files. I agree with your review Matthew. He was very nervous. I do think that he is talented and once he settles in he'll be fine. I read another critique today and within in it Dick Cavett mentioned that Jack Paar told him when he started out that he should never interview the guest but have a conversation. As others have mentioned here Conan had a really bad did that work out for Mr. O'Brien?

    Posted by Jackarooty March 3, 09 04:45 PM
  1. They should get Horatio Sanz as his sidekick. They can laugh at each other for an hour. What a horrendous choice to replace Conan. They should've gone with an unknown. Jimmy Fallon is one unfunny guy and he manages to make Carson Daly look like Jim Carey.

    Posted by Steve March 3, 09 04:56 PM
  1. They should get Horatio Sanz as his sidekick. They can laugh at each other for an hour. What a horrendous choice to replace Conan. They should've gone with an unknown. Jimmy Fallon is one unfunny guy and he manages to make Carson Daly look like Jim Carey.

    Posted by Steve March 3, 09 04:56 PM
  1. Now I understand why Craig is a legend on his own right! Jimmy Fallon was in a kind of hurry. But I think I should wait for a week...

    Posted by siva March 3, 09 04:58 PM
  1. I'm switching over to Craig Ferguson. I loved his movie "Saving Grace" and his book "Between the Bridge and the River". Also, Ferguson is a big fan of the city of Boston, having hosted the Boston Pops' Fourth of July 'Spectacular' the past two years. Fallon, on the other hand, used Saturday Night Live as a forum to mock Bostonians. I just get the impression he's no fan of our city, culture and people . . . and this from someone that went to college in ALBANY! I'm switched off.

    Posted by Todd March 3, 09 05:44 PM
  1. I just tried to watch the episode on, and it crashed my browser. Must be a sign :)

    Posted by jimmyfalloncrashedmybrowser March 3, 09 05:46 PM
  1. Fallon just isn't funny in a talk show host kind of way. He wasn't all that funny on SNL either. I was surprised he was chosen for the spot.

    Posted by JC March 3, 09 05:50 PM
  1. ttoooooo much show for so little time.... Good try!!!!!
    Not enough time for Van Morrison

    Posted by Ed Longo March 3, 09 06:55 PM
  1. Re: Comment #25 by Newsdork...couldn't agree more with you.

    This good old days crap is just that...crap.

    The only lean years from SNL that I can recall (and I've seen all the casts, starting with the beginning years) were the years immediately after the first cast all left. People like Charles Rocket. Other than that, every cast has it's terrific talent, and every cast has it's so so talent...ditto with the shows from those casts. Some sketches are great, others fall flat.

    Posted by Matt Talvi March 4, 09 08:47 AM
  1. I remember watching the very first episode of The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn (That's right -- the showe that existed BEFORE the Jon Stewart massive success). I recall watching with optimism that he'd get over his anxiety, his pulling at his coat buttons every 20 seconds or so, and find his groove. He did.

    I felt the same thing for Fallon. He'll watch the tape and see his meandering and swaying during his monologue. He'll get more comfortable, i'm certain. Funnier? Not sure.

    I did enjoy slow jamming the news. That was clever. I don't know that i need that every night, but i liked seeing something a little fresh to a monologue. THere's too much competition out there for monologues to stand out.

    Posted by Kathy March 4, 09 08:50 AM

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