Much has changed since I was in the audience for “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” while visiting California back in the day. Those changes became very apparent when, thanks to a few no-shows, I was able to get last-minute tickets to “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” while visiting Orlando earlier this month.
While both comedians were affable on camera, I immediately noticed Fallon amiably chatted with the audience during commercials, while Carson had not. The decades-long morphing of “The Tonight Show,“ however, goes far beyond the personalities of its hosts.
For instance, Carson’s show, like many others during that era, was more spontaneous.
I don’t remember any taped segments on Carson, and his interviews were mostly off-the-cuff. Fallon kicked off with a taped (albeit clever) singing of “Fernando” rewritten as “Orlando,” then segued into another pre-recorded send-up of the “Miami Vice” opening credits. He also featured funny taped segments on purchasing a Harry Potter wand at Universal Studios as well as a Brian Williams mash-up rap to “Baby Got Back.” (At his desk, Fallon was laughing along with the audience to both segments).
I’d estimate that just half of the 60-minute show was live. But much less of it was unrehearsed.
Fallon’s interview with Jennifer Lopez was decidedly pre-planned, as it featured clips from a former “tight pants” stunt.” And the “Father’s Day”-themed interview with Keenen Ivory Wayans was simply a set up for an unexpected one-liner.
Finally, the musical segment with J Lo wasn’t even part of the show. It was to be recorded at the amusement park three hours later. It was nonetheless an extremely entertaining hour, even from the vantage point of the cheap seats. But it was certainly a different “Tonight Show” from my experience in the ’70s.
By the way, most talk show tapings are preceded by a comedian whose main purpose is to warm up the audience. The comedian at Fallon’s show, though, mostly primed the audience for some advance crowd shots (“loud scream and clapping,” “just loud clapping” and “medium clapping.”) Oh, he also tossed out a few T-shirts. Darn those cheap seats…
• During the 1970s, I met with Nick Cenci, the epitome of a fully engaged music promoter, multiple times. Cenci, who died June 12, brought Lou Christie and the Vogues into the national spotlight in the 1960s and also re-launched the career of Tommy James after “Hanky Panky” emerged as a Pittsburgh hit long before it reached the rest of the country.
Generally recognized as the person primarily responsible for putting Pittsburgh acts on the musical map, Cenci never let his ego get in the way of his friendship – although he certainly was passionate when he believed he had a hit. Unfortunately, when corporate radio emerged, it became much more difficult to launch local hits.
While I was working at a Pittsburgh radio station, he once brought in a stack of records he was promoting. “You gonna play this?” he asked. “Not this week,” I said, and he promptly tossed the record in the wastebasket. He repeated the exercise until all of the records were in the basket, then walked out of the office before peeking back in. “You do know I’ll be back again next week to do this all over again until you play them,” he said. And he was.
• One of the “breaking news” stories on Internet entertainment sites last week was CBS’s announcement of its starting dates for fall series. Especially with the advent of DVRs and delayed viewing opportunities, does anyone really care what day “NCIS” will be returning with new episodes? At the very least, the release would have more impact were it issued a few weeks, or even days, before the premieres.
Of interest locally is the fact that the initial CBS Thursday Night Football event Sept. 11 will be the Steelers vs. Ravens, a certain ratings winner. While we may be justifiably annoyed with the Steelers’ performance over the past few years, the team remains a huge national draw. Despite its somewhat better track record, the Ravens have yet to establish such a widespread fan base. (To my knowledge, there are no Ravens bars in Myrtle Beach.)
• If I produced the new “Scorpion,” I would be sending multiple bouquets to CBS. The network brass is sandwiching the premiere of the new drama between back-to-back new episodes of “Big Bang Theory” and the second-season finale of “Under The Dome.” That should ensure significant sampling of “Scorpion.” On the flip side, if it doesn‘t latch onto that sampling, it may also be the first series canceled.
• The most interesting aspect of Diane Sawyer leaving the news anchor desk at “ABC World News” is that the major networks now have zero female anchors on weeknights, mornings or weekends. (While females may read the news on the morning shows, the programs are clearly anchored by males).
This comes just weeks after more than two dozen females paraded up to Barbara Walters on her last day on “The View” to thank her for breaking the no-female barrier on network news shows. As the current network male moderators will be anchored to those desks for a while, the female role in national news reporting will be in relapse for quite some time. That’s not to say there was any conspiracy in ABC’s anchor change. With Walters having a greatly diminished role in prime time specials, expect Sawyer to be filling those shoes.
Let’s also hope Sawyer is beyond asking celebrities to compare themselves to a tree.
• Sure, “America’s Got Talent” is the summer’s top-rated show, but does NBC really have to air repeats twice in one week – both within four days of an original telecast? NBC moved the hot variety show to last Sunday (22nd) to counter-program ABC’s new talent contest, “Rising Star.” (It easily won). NBC then repeated the episode in its normal Tuesday slot, where it beat all competitors again, and then repeated an earlier episode Wednesday as a launching pad for “Taxi Brooklyn.”
On second thought, “AGT” – even a repeat – is more engaging than either “Rising Star” or “Taxi Brooklyn.”