Jimmy Fallon on 'Tonight Show': What the Critics Are Saying

12:02 AM PST 02/18/2014 by Debbie Emery

After Jimmy Fallon debuted his sparkling new studio in New York City and welcomed a flood of Hollywood stars on Monday, television critics quickly weighed in on his "nice" debut.

It was a big night for Jimmy Fallon as he took center stage on Monday to debut his highly-coveted role as The Tonight Show host. 

The initial reaction to the latest head of NBC's late night post was positive, as the television community rallied around Jay Leno's replacement. 

Read a sampling of what top critics are saying below: 

The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman said that although it is hard to tell what the longterm ratings impact will be like:

"As for this first night, I doubt Fallon could have done a better job. He booked Will Smith, an across-the-board, broad fan-favorite. The musical guest (and sit-down-to-chat participants as well) was U2. Ditto on the wide appeal. Both showed a lot of love for Fallon -- and that's really what it will take to win in the old school Tonight Show way. People need to know that the host is beloved and respected. They need to like him. Seeing other people like him doesn't hurt. Smith astutely observed that, yes, The Tonight Show is a big deal, but: 'People are coming because of your heart.' That couldn't be more true because it's the ultimate Fallon hook.

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"He doesn't offend. He's nice. He's happy. He likes to make fun of himself and spoof things without cruelty. He is, in many ways, a better fit than Conan O'Brien (who I love dearly -- I just never thought the job would suit him because its relevance had changed through the years and really wasn't the ideal vehicle for what O'Brien himself had grown into)."

USA Today's Robert Bianco said that while he is easy to like, sometimes Fallon was a little too modest: "While gratitude and humility are admirable traits, there were times in Monday's opening moments when Fallon risked taking them to uncomfortable extremes. One more 'thank you,' one more 'I never thought I'd be here,' and viewers might have wondered whether they wanted to be there themselves. 

"But Fallon is an easy-to-like TV persona with a gentle style that seems well-suited to Tonight, and he'll most likely settle in," he concluded. 

STORY: Jimmy Fallon: A Strong First 'Tonight Show' Belies the Long Wait Ahead For Late Night Dominance

Steve Johnson from the Chicago Tribune said: "If he didn't exactly come roaring out of the gate, Fallon did demonstrate the mixture of old-world courteousness, junior-high-school goofiness and seemingly unending enthusiasm that has charmed audiences, network bosses and fellow stars.

"He seems likely to land big stars regardless. Fallon's first week of guest bookings, though, is a demonstration of the star power and, more particularly, the likability he has established," he added. 

"Nice" was the theme of the night, as the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley said "what a nice young man.

"Jimmy Fallon, the new host of the Tonight Show, introduced himself to viewers on Monday like a freshly licensed doctor taking over a retiring gerontologist’s practice.

"Mr. Fallon didn’t smirk or make sarcastic asides. He gently and earnestly explained that he is 39, lives in New York City, and has a wife and a new baby. He pointed out his parents in the studio audience and also how the monologue works. He choked up a little when talking about the Tonight Show legacy.

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" 'I just want to do the best I can,' he said. 'And take care of the show for a while.' Even with celebrity cameos (Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Robert De Niro, among many others) and high-profile guests like Will Smith and the band U2, Mr. Fallon’s debut was more sweet than sassy. He was the grateful heir, the eager freshman, the class clown with top grades and a good heart -- someone older viewers can embrace without fear of being mocked or overlooked.... Mr. Fallon is a charming and gifted comedian who on his first night chose to be subdued and at times even serious. That said as much about the uncertain future of Tonight as it did about its new host."

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