Scott D. Pierce: Jimmy Fallon just wants to get laughs

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2014 08:42 am

If you've ever wanted to see a generational shift right before your eyes, tune in to the debut of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" on Monday at 11 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5.

This will be a major change for longtime "Tonight" viewers.

For longtime Fallon fans — not so much.

Fallon, 39, is young enough to be Jay Leno's son. He's young enough to be Johnny Carson's grandson. And he brings a different perspective to "Tonight" than his predecessors.

"There's no defined thing as to what 'The Tonight Show' is and what it isn't," said Fallon's executive producer, Josh Lieb. "The engine is … Jimmy Fallon. There's a real reason he was picked to host this show."

Fallon will be Fallon. He's bringing his writers with him. His band, the Roots. His regular bits.

He won't be Carson. He won't be Leno. Although he is taking some advice from Leno — to pretty much double his opening monologue from the 4-5 minutes he did as host of "Late Night" to 9-10 minutes.

"So imagine being a monologue writer," Fallon said. "You've got to be real psyched when you get that advice. They're already stressed out."

If Fallon is stressed, it doesn't show. He views his nearly 5-year run as host of "Late Night" as a training ground that has served him well as he moves up an hour to "Tonight."

(Because of NBC's Olympics coverage, "Tonight" airs at 11 p.m. for one week only. It moves back to 10:35 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 24.)

"I know ['Late Night'] has completely changed from when I first started," Fallon said. "So now I feel like we've blossomed into what now is going to be the new 'The Tonight Show.' "

He has nothing bad to say about Leno, but it's clear he's more inspired by earlier hosts.

"I wish that Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were still around just to see what we're going to do with the show," Fallon said, " because I think, when they invented this show, it was all about being fun and silly and goofy. And Steve Allen was the first guy to sit in a plate with ice cream and pretend he's a banana split and get chocolate syrup all over him and roll around. That's what it should be. It should be goofy and fun and make everyone laugh."

His "Tonight Show" will look more like Allen's, Jack Paar's and Carson's because he'll be in New York and in the studio the three of them used. (Carson moved to Burbank, Calif., in 1972.) Fallon will be working out of a Studio 6B at NBC's 30 Rock headquarters where he did "Late Night" before moving out six months ago so 6B could undergo a $5 million renovation.

"You feel the vibes of the Jack Paar show," said Fallon, born 12 years after Paar left "Tonight."

"I am who I am," Fallon said. "I'm pretty much who I am right now talking to you. I think when I do my jokes, I want everyone to laugh."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.