Fallon debut historical, not funny

By Kevin Wilson: FNM columnist

Monday’s always a great TV day for me, with “24” in primetime and often a new “Daily Show” late. This week, however, I was most excited for what was in between.

Monday marked the debut of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” an experience I both feared and anticipated. I’ve never been a big fan of Fallon, going back to his days on “Saturday Night Live.” I cringed whenever it was his time to host “Weekend Update,” and I hated the notion that he was funny because he cracked up laughing during a sizable portion of the skits that involved him. If that’s all that is required to be funny, I know a lot of kids in high school plays who deserve a chance at SNL.

Still, I was interested to see what he would do on his first chance at “Late Night,” since taking over the show from longtime host Conan O’Brien, who will take “The Tonight Show” duties from Jay Leno this summer. Would he slay me with his ability to channel humor? Would there be something genius about his show?

Ummmm … here’s what I remembered from his first hour on air:

• His monologue ended with a note about the stimulus package passed by Congress. It was presented as a “slow jam” as if Barry White returned from the dead to deliver the news. It was then I noticed The Roots, one of my favorite bands over the last decade, was Fallon’s backup band. Am I impressed with Fallon, or disappointed in the Roots?

• Audience members were brought on stage, and one was given $10 to lick a lawn mower. They really did that. Yes, really. I would love to have been there when somebody said, “Hey Jimmy, let’s pay somebody to lick a lawn mower.” Did Fallon say, “It’s genius, we’ll go with it,” or was there a worse idea, causing them to go back to the lawn mower thing?

• Fallon’s first interview was with Justin Timberlake, and the two had an awkwardly amusing conversation full of mock singing. I think I would watch “Late Night With Justin Timberlake.”

I doubt I’ll be watching Fallon that often, but I’m glad I got to see the passing of the torch. When it comes to the top three networks and their late-night shows, the hosts just don’t change that often. The new kid on the block is Craig Ferguson, who started four years ago with CBS, and neither he nor ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel appear to be moving on anytime soon.

Then there’s O’Brien, who takes over “The Tonight Show” on June 1. It didn’t look like he’d survive his first 13-week contract, let alone 15 years in the post-Leno slot.

But over time, he won NBC over with characters like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who famously reported outside the Michael Jackson trial that, “none of us can really know if Michael is innocent or guilty. But there is one thing we do know … he’s guilty.”

And then there were skits like the “Walker: Texas Ranger” lever, which Conan would pull to play random clips from the Chuck Norris Show. Or “Frankenstein Wastes a Minute of Our Time,” where Frankenstein would have the camera follow him to a power outlet. The skits were chuckle-worthy, but more funny when you knew the motivation for those jokes — when NBC and Universal Entertainment merged, those shows and characters didn’t cost NBC anything to use.

O’Brien has promised he won’t change for the new time slot, and his “the joke is the joke” humor will remain. I guess June 1 is one more Monday I can look forward to.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com