Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show guests are not allowed to appear elsewhere, according to NBC executives. The Peacock Network is preening its feathers over the hot ratings for Jimmy Fallon’s hugely successful re-set of the long-running show, letting press agents and booking firms know – verbally – that celebrities who do guest shots on other networks will not be welcome on Fallon’s New York set.
According to unnamed sources, reported by the usually reliable TMZ website, the word has gone out that anyone who wants to sit down with Jimmy Fallon will not be invited to do so if they sit down anywhere else. “Guest” reactions have been muted, so far. No one wants to rock the boat.
When NBC says anywhere, they mean anywhere, including the morning shows on the other networks. One program, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” reports scheduled guests canceling their appearances because they did not want to risk losing their shot with Fallon. The attempted embargo on Fallon’s guests recalls old internecine squabbles between Jay Leno and David Letterman, with celebrities who appeared on one show not being welcome on the other. This time around, the network is laying down the law, not the host. None of Fallon’s competitors have commented on NBC’s decision that Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show guests are not allowed to guest elsewhere.
When Carson ruled the roost, Tonight Show guest shots could make or break a performer, and that was especially true for comedians. One guest shot on Carson could make a career, as many comedians who now have profitable careers can attest. The list of comedians who broke into television on Johnny Carson’s show is almost endless but many of them are now household names only because Carson asked them to sit down on the couch after doing their acts.
The invitation to sit on the couch was Carson’s stamp of approval and, if guests did not get invited to join Carson for a chat after the third appearance, there probably would not be a fourth shot. Singers were also boosted, with Bette Midler famously being Carson’s greatest find.
With the changing of the guard from Carson to Leno, however, the Tonight Show show booked fewer young comedians, giving preference instead to more established celebrities, actors or musical acts with films or albums to plug. Comedians were given short shrift because the hosts of the two competing late night shows were simply not equal to the challenge of competing against younger, edgier comedians night after night.
Advertisers, aware of the aging demographic attracted by the aging hosts have been less willing to buy time on the late night shows. The decision to put the younger, hipper Fallon behind Carson’s desk was a tacit acknowledgment that the old Tonight Show format was simply not bringing in the younger generations the network needs to offset NBC’s weak prime time schedule.
In the just concluded 2012-2013 television season, NBC posted a poor third behind CBS and Fox in the all important 18-49 market, and fourth in total viewership behind ABC, according to the Deadline/Hollywood website. The Peacock network lost an average of five percent of their viewer base across the audience categories. The median age of the network’s viewers continues to climb to the point where the median age of NBC’s viewers is above the age of the prime viewer categories that advertisers want.
Enter Jimmy Fallon, with his fresh-faced, youthful approach to humor, which includes the use of pranks, a Carson staple rarely seen on late night since Carson’s departure. Everyone wants to be seen with Fallon these days…and for good reason. Actors and musicians who want to plug their latest projects will get more lift from five minutes with Fallon than they can anywhere else because NBC posts clips of Jimmy Fallon’s bits all over the internet. A guest shot with Fallon may be replayed many thousands of time on YouTube.
Fallon’s presence on the internet is a strong indicator of his popularity. A Google search on “Jimmy Fallon” brought back 275 million hits. “Jay Leno” gets 87 million hits, and “David Letterman” gets 115 million. For comparison purposes, a Google search on “Barack Obama” yielded 810 million hits.
A search of YouTube listings for “Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show” came back with 2.1 million hits. There were 4.97 million hits each for Jay Leno and David Letterman, but Leno and Letterman have each been on for 21 years. Fallon has been on the Tonight Show for three weeks. For comparison, a YouTube search on “Barack Obama” found 3.6 million items, but he has only had this gig for five years now.
As popular as Fallon is right now, there is a dark cloud on Fallon’s horizon named Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel also has 2.1 million YouTube hits, and a Google search on “Jimmy Kimmel” reveals 275 million hits. There’something a tad suspicious these numbers, with Fallon and Kimmel running neck and neck.
Industry analysts are not counting Fallon in but they have not counted Kimmel out either, because Kimmel – all alone on the West Coast – is a popular destination for celebrities. Musical acts, in particular, appreciate the 1,000 seat outdoor theater with AT&T live streaming of the segments to their subscribers.
NBC’s power play may backfire, however. Regardless of how the celebrity guests feel about Fallon and Kimmel, they may not take kindly to being told where they cannot make personal appearances. Jimmy Fallon guests may not be allowed to appear elsewhere, if NBC gets its way, but Fallon is far from the only game in town, and it is by no means certain that NBC is going to win this time slot. Latest results indicate that, after an initial Fallon bump, Kimmel is gaining.
If Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show guests are not allowed to appear with Fallon if they also appear on the other networks, and the other networks retaliate, there could be lots of empty slots on all three shows. That could be really good news for up and coming young comics.
By Alan M. Milner