It's anyone's guess how viewers will react to the changes at NBC's "Tonight Show" next month. But new host Jimmy Fallon is pretty sure he would get a thumbs-up from his predecessors.
"I wish Steve Allen or Johnny Carson were still alive. They'd be proud of what we're doing," Fallon, currently the host of NBC's "Late Night," said during a recent promotional swing through Los Angeles. "In our heads, we've been doing the 'Tonight Show' for five years. We're just on at a later hour."
The time slot will change Feb. 17, when Fallon takes over the 11:35 p.m. "Tonight" desk from Jay Leno, the show's longtime host. Fallon will be only the sixth host since "Tonight" began in 1954, joining a select group that includes Allen, Carson and -- briefly -- Conan O'Brien. Allen died in 2000, Carson in 2005.
Viewers will notice big changes that extend far beyond the change of hosts. For starters, "Tonight" will relocate to New York from Burbank for the first time since Carson moved the show to the West Coast in 1972.
But fans of Fallon's "Late Night" will see a show much like the one he is already doing: Loose and silly, much like the format pioneered by Allen.
"I don't see that much of a difference with the show now," Fallon said. But "I definitely see a difference with our show five years ago. I just feel like we've grown since we first started."
He and his writers will retain many of their best-known bits, including "Egg Russian Roulette," a game in which Fallon challenges guests to pick random eggs and then smash them against their forehead to see whether the eggs are raw or hard-boiled. Many guests -- including Tom Cruise -- have wound up covered in yolk.
The Roots will remain Fallon's house band, and his executive producer will still be Lorne Michaels, who discovered Fallon years ago for "Saturday Night Live." There will be a new set, however, which Fallon promised will be "gorgeous."
Meanwhile, the reality is still settling in for the 39-year-old host.
"Somebody said, there have been more people who've walked on the moon than have ever hosted the 'Tonight Show,'" Fallon said. "I said, 'Wow, in my case I've done both'."
What do you think of Fallon and his upcoming "Tonight" gig?
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