Fallon's 'Tonight' is a rating success

Posted: February 20, 2014

NO ONE ever doubted that NBC's "The Tonight Show" would go big for Jimmy Fallon's first night. But U2-on-the-roof big? That was a cool stunt. Hypothermic even.

Fallon was his charming, disarming "Late Night" self in a classy new setting, dancing with Will Smith, schmoozing with Bono. And while I'm still scratching my head over Kim Kardashian's appearance in the parade of celebs, from Robert De Niro to Lady Gaga, paying off a mock bet that Fallon would never host "Tonight," the bit paid off when Fallon's time-slot rival Stephen Colbert hauled in that bucket of pennies to "welcome" him to 11:30.

But what does it mean that Kardashian rated a place in the "Sound of Music"-themed farewell to Jay Leno and the Fallon welcome? That being a "reality" star on NBCUniversal-owned E! Entertainment makes you as big on NBC as Lady Gaga?

Early numbers for Fallon's midnight debut, while large by late-night standards, fell short of those for Jay Leno's Feb. 6 farewell, with Fallon averaging 11.3 million viewers to Leno's 14.6 million. Fallon tied Leno's finale among viewers 18-49 but drew a lower proportion of that audience than Conan O'Brien did in his final "Tonight Show" in 2010.

Early ratings, though, don't mean as much as the numbers will a month, or a year, from now.

Fallon's show is now part of the late-night empire controlled by his old "Saturday Night Live" boss Lorne Michaels, who's weathered tougher transitions than this. Betting against him - and Fallon - would probably be throwing money away.

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