HEEEEERE’S JIMMY! The worst-kept secret on network television in the last month or so was Jimmy Fallon’s reserved seat behind the host’s desk on NBC’s Late Night once Conan O’Brien moves his goods and chattels to Los Angeles to take over Jay Leno’s spot on the Tonight Show in 2009. The rumour was flushed out into the light of day where it turned into a fact last week, when Fox News published a gossip item that the network would be announcing Fallon’s ascension in the second week of May, a story that Variety and the Hollywood Reporter both echoed, forcing NBC to bump up the date of their official announcement to, well, any day now.

It has to be remembered, however, that Fallon’s biggest success since leaving Saturday Night Live was a Pepsi commercial with Parker Posey, though Variety insists that “Fallon has been the only real candidate for the job since February 2007, when Broadcasting & Cable and the New York Times reported that the former Saturday Night Live star had quietly signed a holding deal envisioning just such a gig.”

“I think he'd be terrific,” NBC late night programming head Rick Ludwin told Broadcasting & Cable, “and he is at the top of our short list.”

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about NBC’s choice, however. “Fallon is going to need all of NBC's experience in patience and development,” said Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle in a column yesterday, having had the weekend to digest the news. “He will stumble. His shows will be awkward and unformed. He doesn't appear to be a very good listener, which is key to being a good interviewer. More important, Fallon will have to temper his manic nature. Nothing will put off an audience more than a fidgety, unsure host.”

“Who's Fallon as a person?” asked Alan Sepinwall of the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “What's he like when he's out of character? And is that guy interesting enough to carry an hour a night, five nights a week, helping actors plug their movies?”

The consensus is that Fallon’s no Johnny Carson – but then again, no one is. Neither Leno nor Conan had a stellar career on either the big or small screen when they took over from Carson and Letterman, respectively. As for Letterman, you have to be of a certain age to even remember a time when he wasn’t being droll on late night TV, or that he was actually a stand-up comic at some distant point in history roughly between Watergate and the Iran hostage crisis.

Both Sepinwall and Goodman seem to suggest that Fallon has not had the time to fail as much as is necessary to have his youthful persona beat out of him while keeping enough his SNL reputation to stay in the running for the job. I say that, much as I love Carson, it’s time to stop cloning him with minor variations, and lunge out in search of a new late night model. Fallon might not be the guy who does it, but I can only hope NBC will let him try something different, agonizing as it might be to watch. Not that I’m ever awake after 11pm anymore.

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