by pat howard

LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON | Premiere night

In Late Night on March 3, 2009 at 6:01 pm

It’s almost more fun reading others’ wildly varying reactions to Fallon’s debut than it is writing about my own. It’s not like anyone involved is setting out to reinvent the talk show, and various articles in recent weeks have discussed how overblown, manufactured, and carbon-copied the entire late-night landscape is.

I’ve also been amused by the groundswell of dislike Fallon seems to have created, from every corner of the nation and the Internet. I enjoyed Fallon as part of Saturday Night Live‘s regularly scheduled resurgence in the early 2000s, when he and Tina Fey ran the Weekend Update desk. Acting in sketches was never his strong suit. Fey graduated from SNL head writer to 30 Rock star and showrunner; she’ll be dropping by her old pal’s new show tonight.

Career maker Lorne Michaels was a creative force behind getting Fey off the ground. Michaels was the one who plucked Conan O’Brien out of the relative obscurity of The Simpsons‘ writers room and thrust him into the spotlight in the early ’90s. Look how well that worked out, after some initial hiccups. Michaels’ new choice for the Late Night chair is at least familiar to a national television audience, in the same daypart even.

Fallon and showrunner Michael Shoemaker have been practicing online for a couple months already, but no amount of practice will acclimate you to the reality of doing a first show. Sure, Fallon was nervous last night. Who wouldn’t be? And perhaps “Lick It for Ten” is not for everyone (though, again, reaction to this and everything else has been mixed). The premiere numbers were good, according to NBC. I enjoyed The Roots (especially during “Slow Jam the News”). The Timberlake interview went well. Where the sweaty interview with DeNiro  is concerned, anyone in any new job takes a little time to find their comfort zone.

I suspect talk show critics have found a new punching bag, but my opinion of Fallon has always been that he is, at worst, harmless and inoffensive. Those who think he ruined ever week of SNL that he showed up for probably won’t be swayed by this old show with a new coat of paint. But it at least has all the makings — I’d give it a few months to see how things coalesce.

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