'Joking Bad': a.k.a. How Jimmy Fallon is Doing the 'The Tonight Show' Transition Right

It's happened before and will likely happen again: when a TV personality gets a promotion to a bigger show, it can be a hard transition to make. Especially when it comes to The Tonight Show. See: the battle for Johnny Carson's seat in the early '90s and the disaster that was the Conan "transition".

Now, given the past few years where we went from Jay to Conan to Jay again, tensions are high and I think it's safe to say that following the announcement of Fallon's eventual helming of the series in 2014, the collective viewing audience watched with tentative anxiety about just how bad this thing could be. That was until Jimmy Fallon stood up and took the stand-up dude route, riding that bicycle the only way he knew how: to poke it, prod it, and turn it into a pop culture ephemera.

It all started back in May when the rumblings turned into a downright frenzy. Fallon knew that the whole mess had to be addressed, but not in the way it was the last time. So, Jimmy and his staff tackled the hype head-on the best way he knew how: he made a video!

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After the announcement was made official, Jimmy kept it simple with nary more than a brief but endearing acknowledgement during his show's opening. That in and of itself should've been enough to satisfy the news media, but this is 2013: nothing satiates anyone anymore, especially when there are months to go between announcement and enactment, with the valley of the summer (generally seen as a 3-month long slow news day for entertainment/TV writers) between the two.

So Jimmy did a brilliant thing: he made more videos. Parodies of his favorite TV shows to punctuate the months and make fun of the hullabaloo surrounding the transition while simultaneously bringing Leno in on the gag, ensuring a smooth transition and at least from the outsider perspective — a sense that this whole thing is going to go a hell of a lot better than it has in the past.

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Why is this such a great formula? Well first of all, it endears Jimmy and Jay to each other's audiences. Whether you like Jay Leno or not, you can't deny that the whole thing just feels a lot less toxic this go-around. He may or may not be OK with letting go of his late night reigns, but he recognizes that it's business and when your successor offers a comedic olive branch, you take it.

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And doing them all in the style of shows that people are non-stop talking about already? Well that's just brilliant. Combining the conversation and the joke into parody video form is a surefire way to get everyone watching and talking — but also makes the audience aware that Jimmy and Jay, well, they're in on the joke, too. And to that I say: well played.

 

Photo Credit: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

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