Jimmy Fallon made his debut as host of "The Tonight Show" Monday but first he sat down as a guest — of the Nightly News with Brian Williams.
And while Fallon is only a few steps from his old "Late Show" studio in 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, "The Tonight Show" itself is making a big jump from West to East Coast.
"'The Tonight Show' returns to New York City and its old studio where Johnny Carson began after a 42-year run in Los Angeles. But that's not just because Fallon is a native, he said.
"This is it. We are starting a new chapter of The Tonight Show"
“There’s nothing like being in this building,” Williams said in the pre-show interview (from 30 Rock) that aired Monday. “There’s nothing like being in this city. It really does infuse the broadcast. It’s huge.”
"That's where 'The Tonight Show' started — actually in the actual studio where we are going to be. That's where Johnny Carson was, that's where Jack Paar was. There's Broadway. There's Times Square. It's something glamorous about it. You know. And I think that is 'The Tonight Show.'"
The new show will be known as "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," an ode to Carson who also branded his show with the "starring" tag.
For his part, the energetic 39-year-old host appeared pumped.
“I’m just excited and it’s all starting to sink in now,” Fallon told Williams. “It’s becoming real, and you’re like — Wow! — I can see everything now. This is actually going to happen.”
In the interview, Williams walks through Fallon’s rise from “Saturday Night Live” where he spent six years, to his four-year gig on “Late Night” where he “modernized late-night comedy.”
Fallon’s memorable gags, Williams points out, included parodies of games of chance, celebrities throwing things, chest waxing, lots of drinking, slow jamming and hilarious impressions — Jimmy does Mick Jagger, Jimmy does Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy does Bob Dylan.
His Friday night thank you notes became his signature:
“Thank you, Hamburger Helper Glove … for helping me cook and for never mentioning how you lost your finger,” was one example.
“Jimmy Fallon is built to please,” Williams said of Fallon. “He works for laughs, works for the approval of the audience in the studio and at home.”
But Fallon’s home life has changed of late, and that has tempered the whirlwind. The Fallons are the new parents of a daughter, Winnie.
“I’m remembering things as they’re happening now more,” Fallon told Williams. “I’m enjoying the moment more, because when you have a baby you enjoy all of their moments.”
The Nightly News anchor even managed a sneak peek inside the newly remade studio, though cameras refrained from an early reveal.
“I can’t believe you’ve done this all in pink,” Williams quipped.
“Well, pink is the new – blue?” Fallon retorted.
In a portion of the interview broadcast online, Fallon chats with Williams about rap videos the host’s “Late Night” crew created by splicing together the anchor’s words from newscasts. The videos went viral.
"We have another one coming up for opening week of 'Tonight Show' that we're saving," Fallon told Williams.
Fallon took over from Jay Leno, who left the show Feb. 8 after 22 years — with a ballyhoed hiatus when the show was briefly hosted by Conan O'Brien in 2009.
The producers celebrated a return to the Big Apple with a live blog — a series of branded coffee mug selfies of sorts at iconic N.Y.C. locales — that count down the hours before the show’s premiere.
Actor Will Smith and U2 were guests on the debut show.
"I’m just excited and it’s all starting to sink in now"
Fallon has been posting previews to his fans on on social network sites.
“This is it. We are starting a new chapter of The Tonight Show,” Fallon wrote on Instagram. “I can't even begin to describe what we are all feeling right now here at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NYC. But - I know that we'll never have this exact feeling ever again. … All we can do is try to make the best show that we can and make people happy. And we will. Here's to the first of many. Fun.”
Fallon's show was broadcast at Midnight Eastern time/11 p.m. Central, following coverage from the Winter Olympics in Sochi and local news. That will be the schedule through Thursday at least. On Friday, the show will air in its normal time slot, 11:35 p.m.
First Lady Michelle Obama is among the guests scheduled this week, according to NBC.
Others include: Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Lady Gaga on Tuesday; Bradley Cooper and Tim McGraw on Wednesday; Obama, Will Ferrell and Arcade Fire on Thursday and Justin Timberlake on Friday.
Fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Seth Meyers will begin hosting "Late Night" on Feb. 24.
First published February 17 2014, 4:11 PM