When it was announced that Jimmy Fallon would be Conan O’Brien’s replacement as the host of NBC’s storied Late Night franchise, most observers let out an audible groan. After all, both of his attempts to become a leading man of the silver screen were inarguable failures both on the creative and box-office fronts, and his time on SNL was remembered less for the memorable characters he created and more for all the time he spent corpsing in Studio 8H. However, over the last month and some change, Fallon has been slowly yet surely winning people over, thanks in large part to the nightly videos being posted over at his website. Along the way, he caught the eye of New York Times digital-culture writer Virginia Heffernan, who penned a glowing review of Fallon’s online work that stops just short of being a love letter.
We kid, we kid. Heffernan wasn’t really penning a love letter to Fallon (even if, at times, it kind of reads that way). Rather, her piece was written from an interesting perspective, one in which she dropped her narrative guard as “critic” and instead put herself in the position of being just another one of Fallon’s fans, one who follows Fallon’s online life very closely (via his blog, his Twitter, etc.) and competes for his attention. As she writes, “I also like him because he was once part of a male-female comedy team and was dusted, careerwise, by his ‘Weekend Update’ desk partner, Tina Fey. I root for him for the same reason I root for Elaine May.” Gotta love the old “knock ‘em down to build ‘em up” stylistic choice.
And, as you might expect, Heffernan isn’t the only one who’s been won over. Fallon has racked up a considerable number of online fans already (over 10,000 people are following him on Twitter), by proving himself to be a genial internet presence who seems to possess a genuine sense of curiosity about today’s online culture. He even managed to win over the notoriously hard-to-please geeks who were running amok at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.
A lot of the credit for Fallon’s largely successful online debut should go to Late Night associate producer Gavin Purcell, who left his post as Executive Producer on G4 TV’s network-defining Attack Of The Show to work with Fallon. [Full disclosure: Gavin and I are Facebook, if not quite “real life,” friends.] Purcell is equally well-versed in geek and television culture, and has been actively involved in tweaking the late-night format to appeal to younger viewers, who spend more time online than watching TV. The show promises to be quite different than what we have come to expect from a late-night talk show, as Purcell explains in this recent interview during CES.
However, as successful as the team has been in cultivating Fallon’s online presence, everyone knows that the real test will come when Fallon takes to the airwaves on March 2. We reserve the right to go either way with our opinion on the show when it airs, but, at the moment, we’re looking forward to it way more than we’re dreading it. Which, in all honesty, is certainly not something we would’ve said a month ago.