I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (“never” comes to mind). I did catch the silliness NBC displayed when it essentially fired Leno, hired and pushed out Conan, rehired Leno, and then forced him to retire. Do you know what I thought about it? Very little. Why? Because The Tonight Show was not for me. It was irrelevant to me and my friends.
Someone very brilliant invested in hiring the right person to translate The Tonight Show to a whole new generation. I can’t say I ever watched Jimmy Fallon’s Late Show. I’m rarely up that late. And truth be told, I’m rarely up late enough to see Jimmy on at his new time. But do you know what? I can tell you just about every hit guest segment. I hear my peers starting sentences with “Have you seen the Jimmy Fallon lip-sync battle with so-and-so…?” I tell people about the funny things he said in the “Thank You” segment. I use Hulu to watch the show on a Saturday morning.
Why? Because now, The Tonight Show is for me. The jokes reference a hashtagged culture; the music numbers parody the songs I listened to in high school. The guest stars are in movies I want to see.
NBC fundamentally changed the The Tonight Show. They didn’t mess much with the format (although it very obviously apes Saturday Night Live). They invested in a person who could authentically speak to a different generation, who could make them laugh and make them want to share their laughs with a friend.