One stars burns out in America and another is on the rise.
As Piers Morgan’s Live show is axed from CNN, Jimmy Fallon takes over as the new host of The Tonight Show on NBC. Fallon made his debut in the prestigious 11.35pm slot last Monday. His first show featured Will Smith dancing his way through a history of hip-hop, U2 playing on the top of the Rockefeller Centre and cameos from Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Lindsay Lohan and Mike Tyson, to name but a few.
Subsequent programmes have featured guest appearances from Michelle Obama – goofing around in a sketch with a dragged-up Fallon and Will Ferrell - Jerry Seinfeld, Justin Timberlake rapping, Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd miming to Tina Turner, Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire and Kristen Wiig impersonating Harry Styles. In its first week it averaged 8.49 million viewers, its highest audience in more than 20 years.
UK viewers meanwhile have had to content themselves with looking on enviously as these many and various high jinks are posted online from New York. Certainly, it makes the line-ups on The Jonathan Ross Show (last week McBusted and Bradley Walsh) or The Graham Norton Show (Lily Allen, Miriam Margoyles) look a bit weak. It also throws into relief, not for the first time, that UK television has no-one like Fallon, and nothing like The Tonight Show. And that is a great shame.
Fallon is an old-fashioned entertainer. Having started out on the stand-up circuit and Saturday Night Live, he can deliver an opening monologue, interview a guest, sing, dance, rap, play guitar, dress up and do impressions. He has a knack for going viral. As the host of Late Night for five years before this latest gig, his lipsynch battles and musical interludes with house band The Roots became internet favourites. Crucially, he also has a knack for persuading his guests to play along with him, in the silliest ways. In 2012 he got Barack Obama to “slow jam” the news. Last year he duetted with Bruce Springsteen, while dressed up as Bruce Springsteen, on a version of “Born to Run” with lyrics adapted to address New Jersey’s traffic problems.
America doesn’t only have Fallon, either. By night, its channels are awash with clever, sparky daily chatshows, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman and Chelsea Handler to name three of the best. Late night satire is served up sizzling by The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. Saturday Night Live continues to be a weekly riot.
All of these shows offer a sideways glance at the issues and people of the day. And because there are so many of them, the chatshow landscape is constantly shifting and improving. Morgan was a victim of that this week. Fallon took over The Tonight Show from Conan O’Brien, who himself replaced Jay Leno in 2009; he has moved the show’s base from LA to New York to shake things up. In the UK, though, the chatshow is still synonymous with Parky, Wossy, shiny staircases, big sofas and nightmarish memories of Davina McCall or Charlotte Church. It must be time for a change.
Alice Jones can be found tweeting @alicevjones
Cumberbatch effect brings rock ’n’ roll to Radio 4
Radio 4 is not traditionally the most rock ‘n’ roll home for comedy but it felt like it at Rada Studios on Sunday night as fans and autograph hunters queued for hours to get into a recording of Cabin Pressure. A record-breaking 22,854 people applied for tickets to sit in on the last episode of the sitcom which is set in a tiny, one-plane budget airline. Why so many? Well, probably because it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Captain Martin Crieff. But it also features the excellent Roger Allam and Stephanie Cole and some very fine writing from John Finnemore. The new series will not be broadcast until Autumn but in the meantime the third series is being repeated on Radio 4 Extra and is well worth a listen.
What I Watched
At the National Theatre, London. Kitson doesn’t say a word in Analog.Ue, it’s all pre-recorded on tape, but he still spins a unique, tragicomic tale. Runs to 20 March.
Chris Addison and Jo Joyner star as a couple trying to get over an affair in this new sitcom, due on Sky Living in April. Written by Simon Blackwell (Veep, The Thick of It), it’s a rom-com with edge.
Tony Law’s Surreal Guide to Surreal Comedy
On Radio 4 Extra. A three-hour mind-altering romp from the Canadian absurdist with help from Mary Beard, Will Self and others. The highlight was a rare re-run of Chris Morris’ and Peter Cook's bracing spoof interview series "Why Bother?"