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Jimmy Fallon is not only the ratings king of late night talk, he’s also the host who spends the least amount of time actually talking, according to a new study.
Since Fallon took over The Tonight Show early this year, the show has engaged in “talk” only 37 percent of the time, down from the 51 percent of his predecessor, Jay Leno, and 51 percent for Leno’s predecessor, Johnny Carson, according to Stephen Winzenburg, a communications professor at Grand View University and author of the book TV’s Greatest Talk Shows.
Winzenburg’s definition of “talk” consists of the moments when the host engages in conversation with guests.
Fallon spends about 21 percent of his time on his monologue (not considered “talk”), just as Leno did, but Fallon spends 23 percent on comedy bits and 14 percent on music, both significantly higher than what Leno was doing as host of the show.
With 37 percent of his show dedicated to talk, Fallon is way below his peers. Craig Ferguson is next lowest at 43 percent; Jimmy Kimmel is at 48 percent; Seth Meyers and David Letterman are each at 51 percent; and Conan O’Brien is at 53 percent.
Fallon is making up much of the time on music and video clips (some of the latter have been viewed online more than 20 million times).
“Fallon may have made the changes to downplay his weak interviewing skills and better utilize his Saturday Night Live background,” said Winzenburg. “But he also abandoned the edgy political humor of prior Tonight hosts in favor of song parodies and celebrity beer pong.”
The study concludes that “other late night hosts aren’t following Fallon’s lead of reducing talk time.”
Winzenburg says the content of Fallon’s show is most similar to that of daytime host Ellen DeGeneres, who devotes 42 percent of her time to talk.
“Fallon has overhauled the format to the point that Tonight may no longer be able to be called a talk show,” Winzenburg said. “His relatively small amount of talk time is closer to that used by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert…. The Tonight Show has become successful by looking more like a comedy variety series than a traditional talk show.”
This is the second time Winzenburg has studied the way Fallon is changing the talk genre. The first study was conducted during the host’s first week on The Tonight Show and the results were similar.
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