Jimmy Fallon, age 35, took over the reins of NBC’s Late Night franchise in March 2009. But now he’s hosting his highest-profile gig to date. That’s because the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on NBC. (His Late Night with Jimmy Fallon already is a 2010 Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Nonfiction.) Fallon spoke with Ray Richmond for about what he’s learned from the late-night trenches, how he wants to host the Emmys, and why he reads Deadline:
Deadline Hollywood: Can you first reflect about what it’s been like taking over NBC’s Late Night for 18 months?
JF: I’ll tell you, if it wasn’t for Conan, I wouldn’t have this job. He kicked butt for 16 years, 17 years, whatever, and then I came in. So I owe him a lot. And I’m thrilled with the way things are working out for him. But as for what was going on when I started hosting, I just kind of kept my head down and kept working hard and just looking for the next joke. I wasn’t really in the mix of all of that. You know, I just stuck to my thing. I had good people giving me advice.
DH: Do you have your sights set next on The Tonight Show?
JF: The one thing I’ve learned from [Letterman and O’Brien] is that hosting Late Night is a one-way ticket to not hosting The Tonight Show.
DH: But now you’re hosting the Emmys. Are you nervous?
Jimmy Fallon: Actually, yeah, a little nervous but more excited. And I’m feeling pretty prepared. I could do this thing tomorrow if they could get the cameras on.
DH: What kind of marching orders has the TV Academy or NBC given you? The Academy in particular has a reputation for being controlling.
JF: The Academy has been great to us. Almost no notes, really. I think the only note was that we had to give out awards at some point. But no one needs to tell me this isn’t the Primetime Jimmy Show. The Emmys is such a bigger audience. I’m not going to be that same guy you see in late night. I don’t want to push too hard because, you know, it’s not really about me. It’s more about celebrating television and giving everyone who’s there face time.
DH: Can you make fun of the network that’s airing the Emmys and signs your paychecks?
JF: They haven’t restricted me in any way. If it’s funny, they don’t care. And they’ve always been that way. No one’s telling me anything like, don’t go here, don’t talk about Conan [O’Brien]. We’ll touch on the stuff the network’s gone through. We’ll probably have a couple of jokes in there about all of the late-night stuff. You can’t not talk about it. And we have a couple of ideas with Conan…
DH: Isn’t NBC scared of violating his severance agreement?
JF: Nah, it’s all cool. He’ll be there. At least that’s the plan. We’re not sure Jay [Leno] is going to be around. We hope he comes, too. We’re not sure right now.
DH: Anything specific you can mention about the telecast?
JF: Not really, because surprise is the best thing. I don’t want to ruin anything. I can tell you that the opening’s going to be good. I think we’re going to do some musical stuff. We booked J-Lo and Steven Tyler so far, so that’s pretty awesome. Gonna be big. At least that’s the rumor. It’s just all about having fun. But you can’t take it too far. Coming from Saturday Night Live, we kind of know how far you can push things.
DH: What do you see as your job hosting the Emmys?
JF: I think my job is just to welcome everybody and then keep it light and keep it moving. That’s especially important for the people in the audience, because after an hour and a half, let’s be honest, like 85% of them are already losers. Only one out of 5 or 6 of them has won. Once that happens, you just want to get on with it and get to the after-party. You know going in that this can be grueling, so the important thing is to be funny but also to support each other and keep it respectful, too.
DH: If you’re attending the Emmys, is it actually possible to have fun?
JF: All I can tell you is, I was sitting next to Will Arnett last year and just had a blast. At one point he was like, “Will you look at this loser coming over here.” And I go, “Will, that’s your wife.” And then Amy Poehler walks up. I just thought, yeah, that’s the attitude to have. Just be loose. He and I laughed like that all night and made it a fun thing, and that’s what I want to help make happen for everybody.
DH: Is your ultimate goal to become the Billy Crystal of the Emmys?
JF: Well he’s obviously the pinnacle. He’s America’s favorite host. But we both know that, if this weren’t on NBC, I wouldn’t be hosting. If this were on CBS, you’d probably be talking to Jim Parsons right now. But it all kind of fell into place. Thank God it happened to be NBC’s year on the [broadcast] wheel, because a lot of great things happened in TV this year. All of these great shows premiered, like Modern Family and Glee. We also had Lost. I’m still trying to figure out what happened on Lost. Were they dead the whole time? Anyway, there’s a lot of material for me to play with.
DH: Is there anything you can say on the Emmy telecast that might get you fired from NBC?
JF: I don’t think so. But let’s work on my saying stuff that can get you fired instead. Tell Nikki Finke that I said she needs to stop getting sick, it’s old already, it’s been done. And if she has a cold she doesn’t need to shut down her site. I mean, for Christ’s sake, start taking a little echinacea. No seriously, tell her we love Deadline and read it every day – mostly to find out if she’s trashed us.