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Big Apple, big guests, big laughs for Tonight

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For Tonight, tomorrow is today.

OK, well, technically, it's Monday we're talking about, but for the sake of a lovely opening-line alliteration and an ever-so-clever bit of wordplay, are we really going to quibble over a trifling 48 hours?

Anyway...

It's a pretty big week over at NBC's The Tonight Show, which, starting Monday, will officially carry the suffix Starring Jimmy Fallon in its title. In addition to introducing a new host, who makes a huge move from Late Night into the most storied and coveted desk job in all of late-night television, the iconic talk show is also returning to its New York City roots, leaving laid-back Tinseltown behind in favour of the urban grit, sizzling cultural energy and up-all-night vibe of what many consider to be the greatest city in the world.

"It started in New York; why not bring it back to New York?" Fallon said last month during NBC's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "What's the worst that can happen? It's just a beautiful city. When I think of New York, I think of nighttime. I just think it's the perfect place (for The Tonight Show), where it should be. I think of the lights and Times Square and Broadway and the nightlife and the excitement and the glitz and the glamour -- all of that is The Tonight Show."

When the show's most celebrated host, Johnny Carson (who manned the desk from 1962 to '92), moved Tonight to beautiful downtown Burbank in 1972, the primary motivation was easier access to the concentrated population of movie and TV stars that make up the bulk of the after-hours chat-fest's guest list.

But Fallon insists that improvements in cross-country air travel and the increasing amount of production taking place outside L.A. have eliminated the need for the celebrity-driven show to be based close to Hollywood.

"I feel like, booking-wise, it's never been a problem for us," he said. "I mean, we've had the president of the United States on our show (who famously "slow-jammed" the news with Fallon in 2012). You can't get bigger than that.

"Well, I guess the Pope (would be bigger). I mean, if we moved to the Vatican; we were thinking about that. We were thinking about doing the show in the Vatican, but budget-wise, (New York) is just easier. If you want to book anyone else but the Pope, you shouldn't do your talk show in Italy."

The pontiff will not appear on The Tonight Show anytime soon, but Fallon's first week on the job will feature a rather impressive roster of guests -- beginning Monday with Hollywood heavyweight Will Smith and Irish supergroup U2, and continuing through the next few days with Jerry Seinfeld, Kristin Wiig and Lady Gaga (Tuesday); Bradley Cooper and Tim McGraw (Wednesday); Michelle Obama, Will Ferrell and Arcade Fire (Thursday); and frequent Fallon Late Night foil Justin Timberlake (Friday).

"We were trying to get those guys for a long time," he said of opening-night musical guests U2. "When I first started (Late Night), I tried to get U2 as a guest, and they didn't want to tell me, but at the time, they had a secret thing with (David) Letterman. They were doing a week on Letterman, so I couldn't get them. So instead, I got the next best Irishman, Van Morrison, and he was my first musical guest. So hopefully (with U2), I will have lucky times four."

Fallon said the emphasis in his version of The Tonight Show will be on entertainment in the broadest sense, and that he will bring to the 10:35 p.m. slot many of the running gags and musical-comedy bits that were hugely popular during his stint in NBC's after-after-hours time slot.

"I wish that (original host) Steve Allen (1954-57) and Johnny Carson were still around, just to see what we're going to do with the show," said Fallon. "Because I think, when they invented this show, it was all about being fun and silly and goofy. 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 (The Tonight Show) should be. It should be goofy and fun, and it should make everyone laugh.

"Everyone works too hard all day, and we're the first thing after your local news. You watch us, you get a good laugh, and you go to bed with a smile on your face. That's our job."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 G3

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