Team Conan? Try Team Fallon
By Andrew Scott Posted Jan 15th 2010 02:31PM
I'm speaking, of course, about the ongoing late-night drama between the network, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. For over a week now, the three have been caught in a media firestorm that escalated Sunday when NBC announced the cancellation of 'The Jay Leno Show,' Leno's 10PM variety hour.
And that was just the beginning: Soon, NBC had proposed an alternative plan, in which Leno would move back to late-night, at 11:35, bumping 'The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien,' to 12:05. Conan followed with a statement published on Tuesday. In it, he expressed disappointment with the plan and stated that he will not host the 'Tonight Show' after Leno. This left the future of late-night on NBC in limbo.
For now, it appears that Leno will take back the 'Tonight Show' after all, and many have argued that he's the wrong guy for the job. Despite 17 years of experience behind the desk, Leno represents a thing of the past at a time when NBC needs to be trying something new.
The kicker: Conan isn't the right guy, either; it's actually Jimmy Fallon.
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In many ways, Jimmy Fallon represents the future of late-night television. At 35, this young (well, by late-night standards, anyway) and affable comedian is, so far, one of the only hosts to successfully combine an old-school format with the trends and technologies of today. Whereas Leno and Letterman riff off of band leaders Kevin Eubanks and Paul Schaffer, Fallon houses The Roots, an alternative band (in this case, literally) that is recognizable to many within the younger demographics. Fallon also has fun and experiments with his guests. Where else can you watch Charlize Theron, Serena Williams and, yes, Betty White play beer pong on TV?
But where Fallon really wins is on the Internet. Fallon has capitalized on social media networks like Twitter, where he'll often post jokes from his monologue and news about upcoming guests ("I'll talk about Jay/Conan stuff after the monologue tonight," he tweeted Wednesday). He stays connected with his audience well after Carson Daly takes over at 1:35 -- a trick that Conan could certainly learn from, given the rising support from groups like "Team Conan" and "I'm With Coco."
Ratings-wise, Fallon has kept a close fight with his 12:35AM rival Craig Ferguson, and in recent weeks has actually pulled ahead in the key 18-49 demo; during the week of Jan. 4-8, Fallon saw his biggest audience in 16 weeks and scored a solid 0.6 rating, according to TV by the Numbers. However, the show still trails in overall viewers.
But Fallon is smart enough to know that ratings are only part of the equation, especially these days, when most numbers are about as low as the median age of the hosts on 'Saturday Night Live.' "Time doesn't really matter to me," he said in an interview with NY Mag. "We're in a different age. Time is like ... I don't even know what time 'Jersey Shore' is on. It doesn't matter -- I'll see it." Fallon understands that his viewers are living in the age of DVRs and online streaming, and works hard to find ways to accommodate them.
Fallon also appears to be playing it smart as the battle between Leno and Conan continues to heat up. Instead of taking sides like, say, Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel, Fallon has stayed neutral, offering support to both hosts. "Leno gave me so much advice, and so did Conan," he said during last night's show. "And if Conan didn't kick ass here for 17 years, I wouldn't be here."
"I'm happy to have a job," he said.
By staying neutral, Fallon keeps viewers at bay, offering an easily-digestible safe-zone -- the same kind that arguably made Leno so popular as host of the 'Tonight Show.'
I stayed up to watch Fallon last night -- something I don't always get to do, given my busy work schedule. And while his monologue was dry, I did appreciate some of what he brought to the table, including an inspired impersonation of Neil Young singing 'Pants on the Ground' (which he tweeted about prior to the show's airing) and a duet with 'Hurt Locker' star Jeremy Renner. If anything, it was nice to see someone on NBC not talking about the controversy. Perhaps inadvertently, Fallon looked fresh -- the kind of face that NBC desperately needs in all of this mess.
I didn't make it through the entire episode (again, work) but I did save it on my DVR, and plan to finish it over the weekend. As Fallon would say, it doesn't matter when it happens; I'll see it -- more proof that he actually gets it.
In the next couple of days, NBC will have to find a way to stop the bleeding, and that quick-fix answer is becoming more apparent by the hour: Jay Leno will probably move back to late-night, while Conan will disappear, then reappear on a network like Fox.
In the meantime, NBC will also have to start planning for the future. Lucky for them, it's already here -- and it's airing at 12:35.
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