How "The Tonight Show" Reversed a Negative Storyline

By Erik Arvidson


I only occasionally watch the late-night talk shows. So maybe that tells you something when a clever and witty stunt this week by Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon got my attention, and in a good way.

In case you haven’t been following it, NBC announced this week that Leno, 62, will step down as host of “The Tonight Show” in the spring of 2014, giving way to Fallon, 38, who’s now the host of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

Leno’s had a very successful 22-year run as host of the show, and as rumors have swirled around the future of “The Tonight Show” in recent weeks, things have gotten a bit ugly from a PR standpoint.

Let’s just say Leno hasn’t taken anything lying down. Though he has always made jokes about NBC’s slumping ratings, he seemed to be even more critical of NBC execs in recent weeks. He joked in one monologue that NBC’s ratings had gotten so bad, ‘The Biggest Loser’ isn’t a TV show, “it’s our new motto.” Yikes.

This past week, as press speculation on a possible Leno to Fallon switch was intense, the two funnyguys decided to lampoon the whole thing. They appeared together on Fallon’s late night show and sang a parody of “Tonight” from the musical West Side Story.

“Tonight, Tonight. Why do they say we fight? I like you, you like me, we’re OK,” the two sing in a duet, on the phone.

Though some called the skit cheesy, it had the morning news shows and entertainment shows buzzing.

At least for one news cycle, Leno, Fallon and NBC had turned the attention away from the controversy within the network and made light of the incessant speculating. It also got the attention of people like me who don’t watch the shows regularly, but were aware of the controversy. Maybe it also made the eventual announcement of the transition a little less painful.

It’s a good example of how to take back control of a story. It would be a mistake to deny there was any controversy at all – something that may have seemed insincere and just added fuel to the fire. Instead, they found a way to have fun with it and defuse some of the negative feelings.

You can watch the video here:

What do you think? Was it cheesy, or did it work?