- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

NEW YORK

After a bullish staff meeting (which ended with a cheer) and before a wardrobe fitting (strictly suit-and-tie) Jimmy Fallon took time to marvel at how busy he is these days.

”The busiest I’ve ever been in my life,” he tells a visitor to the new “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” offices at NBC.

“It’s ‘SNL’ times three. Times five. Times 10!” says the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member who, come Monday, will claim the weeknight 12:30 a.m. slot chartered in 1982 by David Letterman, then, in 1993, bequeathed to Conan O’Brien.

As Mr. Fallon speaks, he seems to hover more than settle in his chair in his seventh-floor corner office. Happily wired, he notes with amazement that, with so much to do, it’s almost noon - “and the next thing you know it’s midnight and you go, ‘I hope my wife’s not mad.’ ”

As if anyone could be mad at Jimmy Fallon.

At 34, he’s puppy-dog enthusiastic, funny and cool in an unassuming way. It’s an engaging blend that kept viewers tickled for six seasons on “SNL,” where he scored with impressions of Jerry Seinfeld, John Travolta and Justin Timberlake and created such recurring characters as Nick Burns, the know-it-all tech-support guy. He also has appeared in films including “Almost Famous,” “Taxi” and “Fever Pitch.”

Then, last spring, Mr. Fallon was tapped by “Late Night” executive producer Lorne Michaels (his former “SNL” boss) to return to the halls of 30 Rock, this time as host of his own show.

The idea had been broached long before, when he was exiting “SNL,” Mr. Fallon says.

”Lorne was like, ‘Keep in mind that Conan’s gonna need a replacement in 2009.’ This was in 2004. I said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

Now Mr. Fallon is clearly putting his stamp on the venerable “Late Night” franchise. His house band is the acclaimed hip-hop group the Roots. Running the show is veteran “SNL” producer Michael Shoemaker, who handled “Weekend Update” when Mr. Fallon was co-anchoring. To help connect the show to a cyber-savvy public, “Late Night’s” co-producer is Gavin Purcell, who ran “Attack of the Show,” the daily Net-centric news hour on cable’s G4 channel.

In the spirit of the YouTube age, “Late Night” writers will shoot their comedy pieces themselves (”They can use me if they want, or not, but I’m available,” Mr. Fallon says) then edit them in the office on Macs.

“We can be different and topical and fun,” Mr. Fallon vows.

Not that any of this strategy has been a state secret. For months, “Late Night” has been percolating in cyberspace with video blogs that offer an inside look at how a TV talk show germinates. The Fallon-era “Late Night” is already adhering to a policy of transparency.

It also adheres to interactiveness. Item: On his video blog, Mr. Fallon introduced to the world the show’s new logo - which viewers of that “vlog” had a hand in selecting.

“We’re not trying to ignore the fact that people are in front of a computer at work and surf the Web all day long, or that kids check the Internet when they get home from school,” Mr. Fallon says. “We want to exploit that and have fun with it. I’m on Facebook, and I’ve been on Twitter just talking to my fans. It’s amazing!”

Scheduled for his opening night show is Robert De Niro, with others - including Cameron Diaz, Serena Williams and Mr. Fallon’s former “Weekend Update” co-anchor Tina Fey - soon to follow.

“I’ll also talk to scientists and chefs and animal trainers,” Mr. Fallon pledges with a grin.

He isn’t fretting about his competition - at least, not obvious rivals, notably CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” which, head-to-head against Mr. O’Brien, has been winning in total viewers.

No, the biggest challenge Mr. Fallon sees lurking is Mr. Sandman. The goal is getting viewers to tune in and hang with his show instead of hitting the sack.

”I need to be the Red Bull of late night,” Mr. Fallon says.

It will all be an evolving process of trial-and-error, producer Mr. Shoemaker acknowledges. Still, in his office (an easy move from the GE Building’s 17th floor and “SNL,” where he worked for two decades), he exudes a calm, amused assuredness.

”Putting on any kind of new show is daunting, and the show that we start with is not the show that we’ll be doing in three months,” Mr. Shoemaker says. “But the thing that none of us has ever questioned is: Will this be something that Jimmy is good at?

“The end game is that he will be doing this for a long time.”

Mr. Fallon is antsy for the game to start.

“I know I’m gonna get reviewed off the first show, as opposed to the first couple of months. ‘He’s no Conan’ or ‘He’s no Letterman’ - I just want that to be said, and put out there. Then viewers can relax and watch and enjoy.”

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