In his debut as host of NBC‘s The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon paid homage to the show’s storied tradition while also bringing the energy that marked his stint on Late Night. Fallon started off his very first Tonight Show thanking his predecessors “Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno,” in a broadcast that had all of late-night TV’s familiar trappings — the band, the monologue, the couch, the desk — and featured surprise appearances including Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Seth Rogen, Kim Kardashian, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rudy Giuliani, Mariah Carey, Mike Tyson, and Lady Gaga, who joined first guests Will Smith and U2. The intro directed by Spike Lee reminds viewers that Tonight is back in New York City by showing Fallon in familiar spots including Katz’s Deli. The theme carries over to the spare, elegant set designed by Eugene Lee with its behind-the-desk images of the skyline and wood carvings of some landmarks. (The desk includes a laptop computer to Fallon’s left.) The Roots played the host on with a new theme song that owes a lot to Motown.
The host wore a gray suit with a white shirt and black tie. In a sentimental opening, without apparent irony, he talked about his “great childhood” in Saugerties, NY, where he would not have predicted that he would graduate high school and go on to host The Tonight Show. “I would have said, ‘I graduated high school?” Fallon also thanked his wife and daughter and his parents, who were in the audience. “I wish I could have gotten you better seats, but it’s a hot show, Dad. I hope you’re proud of me. I know you are.” Fallon also praised his band who, he said, “can play with Tony Bennett [and] they can play with Jay-Z without blinking an eye.” He also thanked his announcer Steve Higgins, “one of my best friends, and I love you. It’s going to be fun.” Fallon recalled staying up late to watch Johnny Carson. Hosting the show “means a lot to me. I hope I do well,” he said. “I just want to do the best I can and take care of the show for a while.” He added that “anyone I can make fun of I will … so you go to sleep with a smile on your face and live a longer life.”
Thanks to all our friends who stopped by tonight! And special thanks to everyone who tuned in for our very first episode! #FallonTonight
— Fallon Tonight (@FallonTonight) February 18, 2014
With the sentimentality out of the way, Fallon had Higgins introduce him a second time for a more traditional monologue. Noting that “we all have Olympic fever,” he said that Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the first U.S. gold medal in ice dancing. “It felt like a dream come true. Or, as I told the guys, ‘Great hockey game’.” Joshing Olympics sportcaster Bob Costas, who had to sit out a few nights with a double-eye infection, Fallon observed that “you can tell he was having a hard time when he interviewed a mop that he thought was [snowboarder] Shaun White.” In a bit called “Tonight Superlatives,” he riffed on high school-like awards for Olympic stars, with snowboarder Chas Guldemond as “Most Likely to Host an Interior Design Show on HGTV” and ice dancer White “Most Likely to Say ‘Fear Not For I Bring Tidings of Joy’.”
At the desk, Fallon said that there were people who didn’t believe in him who now owed him $100. That began a parade of celebrities making cameos to slap their bills on the desk. The group included Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Seth Rogen, Tracy Morgan, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Joe Namath, Rudy Giuliani, Mariah Carey, Mike Tyson, and Lady Gaga. It also had Joan Rivers – who Carson famously banned from the show after she hosted a rival late-night show on Fox. Stephen Colbert also showed up, dumping a bucket of pennies on Fallon before joining him in a selfie and telling him: “Welcome to 11:30 — bitch!” One person who believes in Fallon’s success is the other person to have hosted both NBC’s Late Night and Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien. “As the only man alive who’s hosted The Tonight Show & Late Night, I want to congratulate & . They’ll both do great!” he tweeted.
The show’s most striking moment: U2 performed its new song “Invisible” at sunset in front of an audience on the roof of 30 Rockefeller Center. The dramatic views 70 stories up included Midtown and Lower Manhattan with the red, white, and blue-lit Empire State Building.
First guest Will Smith joined Fallon in a routine about the evolution of hip-hop dancing.” (video below) Back at the couch, the actor told the host, “This is really huge … People are coming for you. The Tonight Show is big, but people are coming because of your heart.” Later, with U2, Fallon prompted lead singer Bono – who “can make a speech about anything” – to give a speech about the host’s coffee mug. “I can only give a speech about things that I believe in,” Bono said before accepting the challenge: “And I believe in this cup.” Later Fallon had the band launch into an acoustic version of “Ordinary Love,” U2’s Oscar-nominated song from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.
Fallon ended the show like he did his previous one, going into the audience to shake hands while the credits roll.