Growing up in Saugerties, Jimmy Fallon didn’t have the high school’s celebrated Computer Video Production course to help steer him toward a career in television. But as the recent announcement that Fallon would take over as host of The Tonight Show in 2014 shows, he managed to find his way to fame anyway.
Though he’d become almost an immediate household name after joining the cast of Saturday Night Live during the 1998/99 season, the 2008 announcement that Fallon would take over Late Night from Conan O’Brien the following year was met with skepticism. But thanks to a crack writing staff, the Roots as house band and Fallon’s own natural charm, the combination worked.
Buzz about Fallon becoming the new host of The Tonight Show when Leno’s contract expires in 2014 began to build earlier this year, leading to reports of tension in the press and a deliberately awkward bit at the Golden Globes. As that buzz built to a roar last week, Leno and Fallon decided to poke fun at the speculation with a duet that took the Internet by storm. Days later, it was announced that Fallon would indeed become the next host of The Tonight Show.
In a short time on Late Night, Fallon has created his own rhythm and style, and NBC wisely opted not to mess with it too much. While Conan O’Brien lost some of his spirit when he made the move from New York to Los Angeles, Fallon’s Tonight Show will be taped in the Big Apple. The Tonight Show actually began in New York City in the 1950s, but it moved to the West Coast with Johnny Carson in 1972. Fallon’s edge comes in part from his New York roots (and New York-by-way-of-Philadelphia’s Roots, who will stay on as Fallon’s house band), and the network believes in that enough to move The Tonight Show’s entire operation out of Burbank to prove it.
When Leno wraps up his tenure as host of The Tonight Show, he’ll have recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of Carson’s 4,531 episodes. O’Brien lasted just 146 episodes. If NBC’s investment in its future pays off, Fallon has a decent shot at matching Carson and Leno’s numbers rather than O’Brien’s.
An adept social media user, Fallon’s ordinarily active Twitter feed made just one allusion to the news as it was announced last Wednesday: “Today was one of the most exciting days of my life,” tweeted Fallon. “I read every tweet and every post and I thank you.”