Jimmy Fallon takes helm of 'Tonight Show', brings it back to New York

Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:39am EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jimmy Fallon took the reins of the long-running "Tonight Show" on Monday, bringing NBC's late night talk show flagship back to Manhattan after an absence of more than 40 years, being welcomed on set by a host of top stars, including Robert De Niro, Mike Tyson and Lady Gaga.

The surprise appearances, also made by Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Mariah Carey, Lindsay Lohan, Joan Rivers, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sarah Jessica Parker, Joe Namath and Stephen Colbert, were among the highlights of Fallon's "Tonight Show" debut, following the departure this month of long-serving host Jay Leno.

The slew of unannounced walk-ons followed Fallon's remark that someone owed him $100 after betting he would never host the "Tonight Show," at which point De Niro and others strode on stage one after another, each plunking bills onto his desk until finally Colbert showered him with a bucket of pennies.

Actor Will Smith and Irish band U2 were the Brooklyn-born Fallon's first official, previously announced guests as the former "Saturday Night Live" comic launched the show's widely anticipated return to Manhattan's Rockefeller Center.

Fallon's stepping into one of the most visible roles in television marked NBC's second attempt to imbue the competitive late-night landscape on U.S. television with a more youthful vibe by appealing to the coveted 18-to-34 year-old demographic.

"I'm Jimmy Fallon and I'll be your host -- for now," Fallon told the audience in the new multi-million dollar studio where such beloved "Tonight" veterans Johnny Carson and Jack Paar once presided.

It was one of a handful of references to the show's recent troubled history. Leno was initially replaced by Conan O'Brien in 2009, but he returned months later in a public relations debacle for the network.

He also paid tribute to the show's previous hosts by name, being sure to mention Leno twice -- once before, and once after, O'Brien.   Continued...

Jimmy Fallon, host of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon", takes part in a panel discussion at the NBC portion of the 2014 Winter Press Tour for the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California, January 19, 2014. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas