Remember when we all rallied around Conan O'Brien when we heard he was losing his job as host of The Tonight Show and then he got fired anyway and it was kind of depressing? Get ready to feel that way all over again for Jay Leno.
Ha! Just joking, we know you won't. Here's hoping Jimmy Fallon negotiates a better contract than Team Coco, though, because the latest batch of rumors have it that he'll be replacing Jay Leno and his formidable chin when the current Tonight Show host's contract runs out in 2014. That's pretty juicy news, and you can expect a lot of heated discussions about it in the coming days. But here's a question. Should we really care?
There was a time when we absolutely should have, and that time was back in the '80s when the choice was between David Letterman or Jay Leno and The Tonight Show was still an institution revered as one of (if not the) greatest late-night talk shows of all-time. Who was going to take the controls when Johnny Carson left was a huge deal, because Johnny Carson was a huge deal and he made The Tonight Show the huge deal that it was at the time. The operative word there is "time" though, because caring about late-night television is quickly becoming a relic we reluctantly carry with us from a radically different time.
The previous sentence was brought to you by the letter 'R'.
What do we need to tune in to late-night television for these days? Jimmy Fallon isn't being bandied about as the next face of The Tonight Show because of his monologues and putting him in direct competition with Stephen Colbert definitely won't make us miss his interview skills. No, Jimmy Fallon is massively popular right now because the skits from his show become huge viral hits online. You don't have to be in front of your television when Jimmy Fallon proves to be funnier than we ever expected he could be by doing something like this ...
... because five of your friends are going to email you that video the next morning. That's all we need these days. That (and the greatest band on earth) is why Jimmy Fallon is popular right now.
If NBC executives think a massive Internet following is going to translate to improved ratings, it's just another sign that they're out of touch. Remember Snakes On a Plane? If you do, it's certainly not because you beat down a theater door to see it on opening weekend. Hell, remember Conan O'Brien? His show is still on, in case any of you Internet soldiers are curious. It's just that you don't have to watch it anymore because we can see the good parts in brief clips and bypass all of the boring celebrity interviews and commercials, just like we can right now with Jimmy Fallon. If you can blame it on one thing, it's probably Leno's lack of viral marketability that renders him so irrelevant to the younger crowd.
Even if you're excited for Jimmy Fallon from a career standpoint, you probably shouldn't be. Beyond the ratings concerns (that NBC has shown a willingness to address in the harshest manner possible), don't expect a move to a more advertiser-friendly spot to mean good things for the quality of his work. It's generally accepted that Conan's best moments on NBC came after he knew he was going to be fired and stopped caring what the higher-ups thought. Translation: Something about keeping that job made Conan O'Brien feel like he had to hold back.
If you think that's a situation exclusive to him, consider the fact that, once upon a time, Jay Leno was pretty damn funny himself. His act didn't start out as an endless stream of "Jaywalking" skits and wacky headlines. Answering to the NBC machine for so many years just made it that way.
In short, fans of Jimmy Fallon the talk show host should be over the moon if these rumors are true. Fans of Jimmy Fallon the Comic should be a lot less interested.