Magazine article Variety

NBC Banks on Fallon's Flair for Main St. Hijinks

Magazine article Variety

NBC Banks on Fallon's Flair for Main St. Hijinks

Article excerpt

NIGHT MOVES

Network accelerates Tonight Show transition with Leno in bid to maintain latenight dominance

As soon as he found his footing on Late Night, Jimmy Fallon's promotion to the The Tonight Show desk was taken as a given within NBC. The announcement of the Jay Leno-Fallon handoff, set for February following NBC's coverage of the winter Olympics, was hastened by ABC's recent move of Jimmy Rimmel Live to the 11:35 p.m. slot - but not by much, according to Peacock insiders.

Fallon was the natural choice to succeed Leno, and not just because of his apprenticeship in the 12:35 a.m. hour. NBCUniversal brass see him as the host with the strongest potential to have the mainstream appeal that has kept Leno No. 1 in latenight for more than 20 years.

The celeb impersonations, skits and song parodies that have become Fallon's energetic trademark, honed during his six years on Saturday Night Live, are hardly toohip-for-the-room material. But by virtue of his age, 38, he'll bring a generational shift in tone and content to Tonight Show.

Fallon has gained street cred with latenight's target demo through his embrace of social media and knack for delivering viral videos that keep auds chattering. The Evolution of Mom Dancing, featuring Fallon's fancy footwork with Michelle Obama, has logged nearly 15.5 million views on YouTube alone since it was uploaded Feb. 22.

"He's just magic in front of an audience," said Lome Michaels, who ushered Fallon into the Late Night host slot in 2009 and will continue as his exec producer when Tonight relocates to Gotham next year.

"Part of the appeal of those pieces is that they go viral and reach a whole other audience," Michaels said. "Jimmy tweets during the taping. He's so strongly connected to his audience and so much of the audience now watches it online."

NBC took a beating in the public eye during the past few weeks as rumors of the Tonight transition spread, with many perplexed at why the Peacock was so eager to shake up a show that has long been No. …

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