“I’m Jimmy Fallon and I’ll be your host… for now,” said the new host of “The Tonight Show” to open his first episode Monday. That was the only humble part of a show packed with guest stars and routines flawlessly packaged for Internet obsessing.
Will Smith and Fallon danced. U2 did a performance that topped the rooftop one for their “Where the Streets Have No Name” video — at least in terms of altitude. Celebrities from Lindsay Lohan to Tina Fey to Lady Gaga gave Fallon money. Stephen Colbert told Fallon: “Welcome to 11:30, bitch!” Because of the Olympics, the show actually started at midnight.
Fallon kicked off the first “Tonight Show ” to broadcast from New York in 42 years with a thank you to the past “Tonight Show” hosts: “Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno.”
With that quick acknowledgement of the strange machinations that led to his hosting gig and returned the show East, Fallon got down to making a play for the biggest, broadest audience in late night. Hip-hop figured heavily in the mix: The Roots, his house band, is the first hip-hop group to anchor the most iconic show in late night.
Fallon and Smith performed one of two sequences from the first episode that it sure to go viral: In the “The Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing,” they ran through decades of classic moves, including “the Kid ‘N’ Play,” “the Leg Thing No One Can Do,” and “The Carlton.”
The other viral-ready routine featured an absurd barrage of guest stars. As Fallon took his desk for the first time, he said he had a good friend who bet him a hundred bucks he would never become the host of “The Tonight Show.” Out walked that sheepish friend — Robert DeNiro.
But it turned out a lot of Fallon’s other pals had made the same bet. Fallon’s old “Weekend Update” co-anchor, Tina Fey, walked out to slap another Benjamin Franklin down on Fallon’s desk. Many others did the same: Joe Namath, Rudy Guiliani (who thanked Fallon for bringing the show home), Mariah Carey, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian (who also appeared on Jay Leno’s last “Tonight Show”), Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Tyson, and Lady Gaga.
Last to emerge was Stephen Colbert, whose “Colbert Report” will air opposite Fallon. He spitefully paid Fallon in pennies, then took a selfie with Fallon — and gave him that “Breaking Bad”-style welcome to 11:30.
But Fallon already looked settled in. He made it clear that no market was too small to merit a shout out. He mentioned that he was from Saugerties, N.Y., that The Roots hail from Philadelphia, and that announcer Steve Higgins is from Iowa and now lives in New Jersey. In promos with Smith, he called out specific fans in places like Chicago and Southern California.
His other housekeeping included telling his audience that Spike Lee directed his New York-centric opening sequence. And he introduced a gorgeous new studio: an Art Deco influenced set with a golden model of the New York sky line in the background.
In case anyone still wasn’t aware that “Tonight” was back in New York, Fallon and U2 made it very clear with a performance from the 70th floor of the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Center, where the show tapes. It was executive producer Lorne Michael’s idea to shoot it at dusk.
Near the end of the show, U2 and The Roots joined together for a performance of “Ordinary Love,” U2’s Oscar-nominated song from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” And then Fallon walked into the audience, to shake a lot of hands — and introduce himself personally to his new audience.