The Tonight Show has a long history. It is emblazoned in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of loyal viewers. I was a fan of Jay Leno; however the most notable host for me was Johnny Carson. Johnny was awesome. The role was made for him. Everyone loved him and his worthy sidekick, friend and announcer Ed McMahon. As talk shows go, Johnny and Ed pretty much set the bar for how late night shows needed to be done. It was not the Tonight Show; it was the Johnny Carson show. His name was what everyone used to communicate about the show, i.e., I stayed up late and watched Johnny Carson. Or, did you see the Johnny Carson show last night? His sense of humor and charisma meshed perfectly with his guests. His different characters were off key and lame. But we watched and laughed because of his particular way of performing. The show was a catapult for many young stars. The Carson show was the place to be seen if you were to be considered someone in the entertainment field. Johnny seemed to love getting rookies their big break.
His show was such a draw that the other networks desperately needed to find someone to challenge the ratings. Letterman came into the picture as Carson’s competition. Letterman basically did very little to change the way his show was done compared to Carson’s. Have an orchestra / band with a central figure to joke around with. Keep the desk; it keeps you in charge. Then just entertain the audience, give them noteworthy guests and make the conversation appear as though the audience is a part of it. You didn’t want to mess too much with what was working.
When Leno stepped into Johnny’s shoes he too pretty much kept it the way it was. Sure the network publicized his takeover of the show. Not nearly as much as what we have seen in these past few months and days with Jimmy Fallon’s entrance. Jay’s comedian experience was helpful as it is with other talk show hosts. Johnny had a real impact on that factor in the arena of late night talk show hosting. Previous daytime show hosts were strictly straight lace and had formal rebuttal type conversations. Jimmy has proven his expertise in comedy. Leno grew up watching Johnny and in my opinion emulated Johnny’s style, which is an honor. If a talk show host wants to get it right, learn from the best. Carson was the best.
My point is that the recently chosen replacement Jimmy Fallon is stepping into some pretty big shoes. Jay amassed a large following in the years that he hosted the show. Loyal fans of Johnny’s did not immediately take to Leno. No, it was a matter of time before we would watch the late night show again. It was not the same without Johnny. What seems to be different with this recent exchange of hosts is the approach to handing it over. Do the masses need to be sold on the idea? Fallon is in a lot of commercials (a lot of NBC’s Olympic themed ones) and on Saturday Night Live. It is as though he has to be made to be accepted. He is a product that is pushed upon us. The commercialization of Fallon is so obvious it’s pathetic. Do not get me wrong, I like Fallon. He may very well be the next “Here’s Johnny!” In my opinion the network has no faith in his ability. Or, we as viewers need to realize that he can be sold to us. The networks are pitching him to Joe public in just the same way political parties sell their candidates. They are expending millions of dollars in media coverage, good script writing and screening the chosen person to the people most likely to be interested.
The days of selecting what we prefer without being psychologically profiled are over. The money factor is too great. If the risks can be eliminated and plus factors modified it will be done. The likes of how Carson won his audience over are over.
I wish Fallon all the best as he is propelled into this arena. Jimmy will likely coast into the position with the help of many highly paid experts in the show business field. Just be assured his acceptance was manipulated and neither we nor he will ever know if he could have done it on his own.