Midnight Madness

By Alston, Joshua | Newsweek, March 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

Midnight Madness


Alston, Joshua, Newsweek


Byline: Joshua Alston

Jimmy Fallon prepares for the late-night wars.

It's hard to imagine pitying someone who just got a glitzy, lucrative, high-profile job (or any job, for that matter). But Jimmy Fallon, the charming, if a bit fratty, "Saturday Night Live" alum who is taking the reins of NBC's "Late Night" talk show, shouldn't be the object of anyone's envy. Fallon is taking over for Conan O'Brien, who will take Jay Leno's vacated desk at "The Tonight Show." Leno, meanwhile, will move to a similar show in prime time. That will make Fallon's show the third in NBC's late-night roster, so essentially his mezzanine seat got picked up and moved to the nosebleed section.

And if there's one thing that late-night talk doesn't need now, it's another competitor. "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," despite their smaller audiences on cable, are both top-tier shows, which means that they're also fishing in the same A-list pool for guests. This is where Leno's new gig makes a huge difference. Think of the Angelina Jolies of the world as precious fossil fuels, then imagine prime-time Jay as an emerging world power with a proclivity for gas guzzlers.

Fallon will have to freshen up the late-night format if he wants to flourish. Booking mumbly Robert De Niro as his first guest isn't exactly inspired, but he did pick hip-hop sextet the Roots as his band. Still, it'll take more than hipster-approved music to give people a reason to stay up past their bedtime. Here are a few suggestions:

Bring back the sidekick. Conan used to have the perfect foil--which is why NBC just lured Andy Richter back for O'Brien's big new gig. David Letterman has Paul Shaffer--though we still miss the late, great Larry (Bud) Melman. There's a reason "The View" grew from a daytime punch line into full-fledged appointment viewing: the sometimes zesty, sometimes tense, always entertaining interplay between the hosts. They're there every day. A guest like Joaquin Phoenix, bless his incoherent little heart, comes along only once in a blue moon. …

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