So I watched the Fallon Tonight Show...

...and it actually wasn't all that bad, but I'm just trying to imagine who it's supposed to be aimed at. Generation X'ers are watching Letterman, the younger viewers are watching Conan and Colbert, someone's watching Kimmel, and presumably everyone over 65 is now just going to go to sleep half an hour early. And Fallon is a funny, engaging host. But it's just hard to imagine who his core audience is supposed to be. Fans of Fallon's Late Night or SNL, maybe, but aren't they more likely to want to watch the other guys in the 11:30/10:30 slot? (And sure, there's timeshifting, but I doubt most people who aren't TV critics sift through five hours of late night chat shows. I tend to stick to Ferguson these days, mostly.)

I can see where they're trying to create a Tonight Show that's reasonably cool in a middlebrow way, and appeals to a wide audience (though having U2 and Will Smith on definitely skews older). But let's face it, it's always been kind of a square, starchy show that was intended to appeal to your parents, or your parents' parents. Letterman was Carson's chosen heir, but he was an oddball who refused to knuckle under to the establishment. Conan tried to recreate it as a weird, crazy comedy show, and he was summarily banished. Fallon is trying to make a hip, stylish, urbane program that isn't threatening or outré, but it's easy to imagine Leno's audience tuning in and being baffled and put off by all the hippity hop and the weed jokes. The Tonight Show has always been the gold standard of normality and safe comedy; virtually every other late night talk show has defined itself by not being conservative or normal. It's not a place you'd associate with risks or actual irreverence.

I just can't help imagining that in four or five months, NBC will force the show to undergo retooling, and that sometime in the fall they'll pull the plug, reopen the Burbank studio, and Leno will, like Rambo, come back for one more hitch before his core constituency heads off into the great Nielsen Share beyond the clouds.

Random observations:

  • The Smiths are an "emo" band? I guess that's an attempt to reach younger viewers, though I doubt they're watching, and besides, didn't emo peak like five years ago? (I am not a "young person.")
  • The "History of Hip-Hop Dancing" sketch was pretty funny — but again, it's the sort of thing I could imagine driving Leno viewers to switch the channel in exasperation.
  • Olympics jokes = Synergy!™
  • The parade of celebrities who showed up to congratulate Fallon was totally random. It made sense to see Colbert and his fellow SNL alums Fey and Morgan — but Lady Gaga? Kim Kardashian? Giuliani? The dad from Frazier? Mike Tyson? It seemed like they were trying for "celebrities your folks would recognize from People magazine."
  • Is Tina Fey like a vampire or something? Because, damn, she seems to be aging in reverse. She looks younger now than she ever did on "Weekend Update" or 30 Rock.
  • Oooh, Fred Armisen is the bandleader on Seth Myers' show. I could actually watch that.