PASADENA, Calif. — Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight” show, which debuts next month with actor Will Smith and U2 as guests, will look familiar to people who appreciate his current work in the time slot following Jay Leno.
Fallon said he doesn’t expect to change his brand of comedy to tailor himself to an earlier time slot. Fallon and his successor at “Late Night,” Seth Meyers, met with reporters Sunday as NBC begins the delicate process of a late-night transition.
“This show has completely changed from when I first started,” Fallon said of “Late Night,” which he has hosted for five years. “I feel like we’ve blossomed into what will become the new ‘Tonight’ show.”
He rejected the idea of changes to make himself more appealing to an older, middle American audience that likes Leno. It’s a delicate subject at NBC, where executives believe Conan O’Brien’s limited appeal doomed their first effort to replace Leno. The executives anticipate Fallon’s light-hearted comedy translating better.
Leno closes his two-decade run on “Tonight” Feb. 6 with Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks as guests. On Feb. 17, Fallon debuts a week’s worth of shows at midnight following NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. He moves into his regular time slot a week later, followed by Meyers, who has “Saturday Night Live” chum Amy Poehler booked as his first guest.
NBC’s entertainment president, Robert Greenblatt, said he’d like to keep Leno at NBC, perhaps to host regular specials. Fallon said he’s not worrying about whether Leno leaves NBC and decides to keep working in late-night TV elsewhere.
Fallon said he called Leno when he got the “Late Night” job to reassure him he wasn’t gunning for Leno’s gig. He said they have spoken regularly, and he’s taken some of Leno’s advice, most prominently to make his nightly monologues longer.
“He’s a good guy,” Fallon said. “He’s really treated me well.”
Fallon’s “Tonight” show “should be goofy and fun and make everybody laugh. That’s our job,” he said. He said he appreciates showing different sides of celebrities by getting them involved in skits or games, like when Tom Cruise cracked two raw eggs on his head. Fallon’s musical skits are among his most memorable. He said he alerted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office ahead of time about his recent duet with Bruce Springsteen that spoofs Christie’s traffic jam scandal.
Although Fallon is moving “Tonight” to New York from the West Coast, he said he will take the show on the road — including to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks a year.
Some critics have noted that the formal title of the show is changing from the “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” to the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Fallon said it was an homage to the show’s roots.
Meyers is taking over a show where the three previous occupants of his chair — David Letterman, O’Brien and Fallon — are all still hosting shows. He said the legacy of “Late Night” is that hosts get to do weird things and that people have a little more patience with it.
But Meyers seems very much the traditionalist. The current head writer of “Saturday Night Live” values writing, and he’s brought the author of his “SNL” ”Weekend Update” segments over to lead his own writing team. Meyers said he’s looking to build a stable of writer-performers and that a strong monologue will be key to his show. He won’t have a regular sidekick and hasn’t decided whether he will have a band or DJ for musical interludes.
A strong ensemble or guests will be a priority, with Meyers noting that “I like being in a (camera) shot with someone who is funnier than I am.”
“If you get too hung up on the legacy of what you’re getting into, it gets in the way of the work,” Meyers said. “Our goal is to be as funny as we can and get better every night.”