All this online chatter about late night talk shows has spurred me to watch a few.
My biggest surprise? Jimmy Fallon is fantastic. Seriously. This guy will be around for a very, very long time.
I was prepared -- heck, I was primed -- to dislike Fallon's new Late Night. I don't have anything against the guy, I just wasn't sure he could make the transition from "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and several forgettable film roles to the seat originally filled by David Letterman. I strongly suspect that "talk show host" is one of those jobs that looks easy but is really extremely difficult. It ain't for everyone.
Watching Fallon, you can see how difficult it is. He's by no means a natural at reading cue cards, seems just a little too eager at times and applies too much pressure to his interviews.
(Brief aside: his interviews sometimes remind me of "The Chris Farley Show" on SNL: "Um, hi. Welcome to The Chris Farley Show. I'm ... Chris Farley ... and, my guest tonight is ... one of the ... greatest musicians ... uh, rock musicians ... I guess songwriter ... ever. [Hits himself] God! That sounds stupid! God, I'm an idiot! I never know how to start these things!")
But Fallon seems so genuine, seems to be having so much fun learning on the job, that you don't care. Watch Seinfeld and you can see Jerry Seinfeld clearly trying not to laugh in just about every episode; who cares, right? It was still a terrific show.
In a few short weeks, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has become my favorite late night talk show.
I know: weird, right?
Here's my mid-year late-night talk show host rankings:
- Craig Ferguson: Ferguson desperately needs to broadcast in HD (his show looks like black and white compared to the others) and get a band. I haven't mentioned them yet, but I think The Roots contribute mightily to Fallon's success. Also about Ferguson: best interviewer of the bunch, unless it's a more serious topic, and then I'd pick ...
- David Letterman: Big fan of his -- in Leno vs. Letterman, it was always Letterman in our house -- but 50 years of Dave might just be enough Dave. Still he's an easy number three.
- Jay Leno: Currently out of the loop, but I'm ranking him based on his Tonight Show. I was never a huge Leno fan despite my impression that he is, in real life, a terrific guy and someone worth rooting for.
- Conan O'Brien: I know I'm supposed to like Conan and his brand of comedy, which is aimed straight at guys like me. But I never really got into him and was shocked NBC threw Leno over for him. I expect Tonight Show ratings to reveal that other people share this sentiment. Best set on TV, though. They did a great job. (This isn't a backhanded compliment, either; even if you're not a fan, tune into the show at least once to check out the set.) Oh, and Andy Richter: trying too hard. Someone tell him to relax. Loved Andy Barker, PI, by the way. Wish that show had continued.
- Jimmy Kimmel: Someone who was recently rescued from standard definition prison. Needs more Matt Damon.
- Carson Daly: I liked him more as a golfer and hopes he gets his drinking under control and loses some weight.
But I'd recommend any of those top three right now, and strongly recommend the top two.
Jimmy Fallon. Who woulda thunk it ....