Jimmy Fallon's 'Tonight Show' Could End the TV Talk Genre, Study Suggests

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon First Monologue - P 2014

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon First Monologue - P 2014

Fallon spends much less time talking to guests than did Jay Leno and far more time on music and comedy sketches, according to Professor Stephen Winzenburg, author of "TV's Greatest Talk Shows."

Jimmy Fallon spent so little time in conversation with his guests during his first week as host of The Tonight Show that the venerable show now under his purview could be reclassified “variety” instead of “talk,” according to a study released Monday.

So far, The Tonight Show under Fallon has contained far more music and comedy sketches and "gimmicks" than it did under former host Jay Leno, according to the study, conducted by Stephen Winzenburg, a communications professor at Grand View University and author of the book TV’s Greatest Talk Shows.

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Since the show attracted a massive 8.5 million viewers in its first week – the biggest weekly Tonight Show audience in 20 years – others will want to emulate Fallon’s approach, a development that could kill the TV “talk” genre.

“If Fallon continues to push comedic sketches and music at this pace while retaining his premiere-week popularity, the entire genre may evolve into only a small portion of the program used for actual talk segments,” Winzenburg said. “With the popularity of Fallon’s first week, this could be a sign of the end of the traditional talk show as we know it.”

A month ago, says Winzenburg, Leno was spending an average of 51 percent of the show talking to guests, while Fallon so far is at about 33 percent. Both hosts used an average of 23 percent of their show for their monologue.

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“It could just be a first-week attempt to emphasize comedy over talk, but if he continues at this pace, Fallon’s show should not be called a ‘talk show’ and should instead be categorized as a 'variety show,' ” Winzenburg said.

Winzenburg said 18 percent of Fallon’s show during the first week was dedicated to music, about twice what was typical for Leno, while comedy and sketches took up 25 percent of Fallon’s show compared with 19 percent with Leno.

“Nobody calls The Tonight Show a variety show and if they do they’re wrong, but based on Fallon’s first week it suddenly looks like one and it could preclude the death of the talk show because everyone will want to copy it,” says Winzenburg. “Fallon is basically doing Saturday Night Live with a short interview segment.”

Winzenburg says Fallon has been focusing on “goofy gimmicks that are meant to go viral online and attract younger viewers," and he doesn't expect that to change.

“To do a talk show, you have to talk, and Fallon doesn’t do too much of that," Winzenburg said.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com