In Newsweek, John Walters says something I’ve been thinking about Jimmy Fallon, who has turned “The Tonight Show” into the biggest late-night party since Arsenio Hall’s heyday:
Jimmy Fallon is the most versatile talk-show host since Steve Allen. There’s just one thing this talk-show host is not very good at: talking.
Watching and listening to Fallon interview a guest is simply more painful and awkward than every conversation that ever took place between Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper. Everything a guest has ever done, including the film, TV show or album he or she is there to promote, is either “amazing” or “awesome.” Usually, both. A Fallon interview is like watching a tennis match with all aces. There are no rallies, no service returns back across the net. There is no honest to goodness badinage.
Fallon is fawning. Compared to Fallon, Arsenio Hall was Sir Laurence Olivier’s sadistic Nazi dentist asking Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe?” in Marathon Man. At the mere suggestion of whimsy or wit by a guest, Fallon claps or convulses into laughter. Giddiness is a default mechanism. If I wanted to see someone awestruck—and dumbstruck—at the prospect of interviewing a celebrity, I’d save NBC $12 million a year and just watch old clips of The Chris Farley Show.