By Alexandra Gundy
As the iconic Tonight Show bids good-bye to host Jay Leno, the network is gearing up to welcome a younger host, and what they hope will be a younger audience.
Jimmy Fallon is set to move into the 11:35 P.M. timeslot beginning Feb. 17. Fellow Saturday Night Live alumni Seth Meyers will then take over Fallon’s vacated seat on Late Night.
The shift is much anticipated. Four years ago Leno retired from the show, only to return to the coveted time slot weeks later, taking it back from Conan O’Brien.
Leno has compared Fallon to former host Johnny Carson, as have other comedians.
“Everyone has been waiting for the next Carson,” said Dan Galea, one of the founding members of Toronto comedy troupe The Sketchersons. “Fallon is a sketch guy, like Carson, and him replacing Leno is the best thing that’s happened to late night in a long time.”
Fallon, who is 20 years younger than Leno, is expected to bring in a younger audience. Although Leno’s ratings and revenues are high, NBC predicts Fallon may be more attractive to advertisers’ sought-after adults in the 18-49 demographic.
Allan Guttman, who was the director of comedy training at Second City for 17 years, isn’t convinced the switch will pay off for NBC.
“Younger comedians tend to be dismissive of older ones. They just don’t get that style of comedy, and that’s OK,” he said. “But these things go in cycles. Sometimes things can get overdone, and sometimes comedy lends itself more to collaboration than stand-up.”
Leno’s 22-year run is a testament to his popularity. Gearing up to his final episode, which aired Thursday night, the show continued to out-earn competing networks and attract the largest viewership.
While Leno and the Late Show’s Dave Letterman tend to stick to standard format, beginning their shows with a monologue before interviewing their guests, comedians like Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O’Brien integrate far more sketch and parody into their shows. Galea said that engaging the audience is very important.
“The audience is changing more than the comedians. The audience is so much smarter now, and they expect more,” he said. “The comedians have to be a bit more on their toes. And that’s a good thing, because that’s going to make for smarter jokes. And better shows.”
Before he moved to Late Night, Fallon spent six years as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, where he was famous for breaking character and giggling through many of his skits. Galea thinks this endears him to audiences.
“There’s a lot to be said about just being really silly, and I think that’s something that people overlook because they’re busy trying to be edgy.”