Jimmy Fallon's first Tonight Show guests will be Will Smith and U2, he announced Sunday at NBC's Television Critics Association winter previews.
U2's appearance on a Fallon late-night show has been five years in the making. Fallon revealed that he had asked the band to be his first musical guest when he took over Late Night in 2009. "We were trying to get those guys for a long time. When I first started, I tried to get U2 [but] they were doing a week on Letterman. I got the next best Irishman, which is Van Morrison, and he was my first musical guest. So now hopefully I have lucky times four."
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Fallon, who will debut on Monday, Feb. 17 at midnight before moving to 11:30/10:30c the following week, said it's "surreal" and an "honor" to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Carson. "It means a lot to me," he said. "I don't want to let anyone down. I want everyone to know I'm going to work as hard as I can."
Here are seven things to expect from Fallon's Tonight Show.
1. It's "Starring," not "With": Keen viewers will notice that the full title is The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, not "With," as was used for Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien's brief stint. Fallon said he purposely chose the throwback title, along with a full moon logo, after looking through old title cards. "It's an homage, a little tip of the cap to the origins of the show," he said. "'Starring' was like, hey, it's the business, it's Hollywood, it's glamorous."
2. A smooth transition: Fallon foresees a clean passing of the baton from Leno to himself. After the Conan-Jay debacle of 2010, Fallon said he called Leno to tell him that he wasn't "gunning for your position" and that "when you decide to step down, let's do it the right way." Leno, he said, appreciated the call, and the two have talked to each other every couple weeks. "He called me and said, 'I think it's going to be the year and I'd love for you to be the next guy,'" Fallon said, adding that he never assumed nor did NBC tell him he would succeed Leno four years ago. As for Leno's post-Tonight Show plans, Fallon said he's not thinking about where he'll land or his competition. "Maybe he can be a new detective on The Blacklist," he quipped.
3. Longer monologues: One key piece of advice Leno gave Fallon was to extend his monologue, which currently maxes out at four minutes, while Leno's lasts as long as 10 minutes. Fallon said he realized many Tonight Show viewers get their news with a laugh from the monologues. "Now we have to write double the material," he said. "I remember growing up, watching Weekend Update — I got my news on Saturday Night Live."
4. No adjustments for 11:30: What you see is what you get with Fallon. "I don't feel like I have to win over [anyone]," he said of Leno's broad, middle USA appeal. "I am who I am. You can see my work." Late Night's loose, jovial tone will carry over to The Tonight Show, which Fallon points out was how the franchise began. "I wish Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were still around ... "[When The Tonight show started], it was all about being fun and goofy and silly," he said, pointing out their slaptstick routines. "That's what it should be. Everyone works too hard. We're the first thing after the news [and] we should be fun."
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5. When will Justin Timberlake pop up? "Timberlake, whenever he's available to play, he's always great to play with," Fallon said of his BFF. "He's always there for me. That's what friends are for." And Fallon has lots of good friends: He said the first three weeks are booked thanks to frequent Late Night guests and pals who are always a phone call away.
6. Tonight Show on the road: The Tonight Show will move back to its birthplace, New York City, for Fallon — "it wasn't a real option" for Fallon to move to L.A., he said — but he will bring it to the City of Angels a few times a year. "We will travel with the show," Fallon said.
7. How long? Both Carson and Leno have had lengthy tenures at the Tonight Show helm, and Fallon is game to stay for a long time. "I'm 39 now. I can stay if I'm lucky enough," he said. "It's crazy to think that way. I'm happy I'm here five years at Late Night. We're just having a good time. You think this is the way to go to get The Tonight Show and now it's happening."
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon premieres Monday, Feb. 17.