Late Night Star Wars
By: Roxy Silver
With the recent entry of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in the late night television arena, competition for viewers is heating up like never before. Networks are reaching deep into their bags of tricks, vying for a bigger slice of demographic pie. While monologues and movie stars have always been staples, musical guests and performances have taken on a whole new meaning in the quest for the highest viewership.
David Letterman (CBS) is the elder statesman of late night TV. While his seniority and legacy attract top-tier musical talent, Letterman isn’t always aware of the live talent he brings on set, and he doesn’t make much of an attempt to pretend he is. Most often, there is no interview. Between the generationally unaware host and the claustrophobic set, the segments often seem forced and uncomfortable as they are allotted the few remaining minutes of any given show.
Jimmy Kimmel (ABC) takes it to a whole other level. In the midst of a year-long agreement with Sony, many shows feature a bona fide outdoor concert in the parking lot behind the Jimmy Kimmel Live! set. Afforded time for a three-song set, A-list bands perform before hundreds of live fans on a legitimate stage. The viewer is treated to a unique, “almost-live” set—masterfully shot and engineered—four nights a week. For what else are you going to get rocked out of your bed at midnight on a Monday? Well, besides that.
Jimmy Fallon (NBC) is a talented musician himself. He recently knocked late night audiences for a loop with a dead-on impersonation of Bruce Springsteen, singing a Born to Run parody. Halfway through, the identically dressed Springsteen joined him on stage, and for a moment it was hard to tell who was who. Fallon has also performed live with the likes of Ringo Starr and Billy Joel, adding unsurpassed cred to his repertoire.
Performances have mutual benefit for bands and the talk shows they appear on. Bands get a chance to promote concerts, merchandise, and units, while networks hope to reel in more viewers. With Kimmel’s full-blown concerts setting the bar high and Letterman continuing to phone it in, Fallon offers a rare opportunity to spotlight performers in an unconventional performance setting.