Jimmy Fallon had a few hits and many misses in his late-night debut.
His opening monologue was bland. His interview with Robert De Niro was awkward. And one audience-participation bit, "Lick it for $10," was unnecessarily stupid.
But things could have been worse. Just ask his predecessor, Conan O'Brien.
In 1993, Conan, a little-known comedic writer from The Simpsons, was often booed during his first year replacing David Letterman. According to Rick Ludwin, an NBC executive, some at the Peacock Network even wanted Conan gone.
"There were a number of people out there who were telling me we'd made a mistake (with Conan) and that we'd better jump out," Ludwin recalled. "But we stuck to the plan, and Conan did the work. He kept his head down and each day worked at getting better and funnier and not paying attention to what the critics were saying."
Fallon should learn from that lesson.
This morning, critics hammered the SNL-alum for the subpar debut. But there was plenty of noteworthy pluses. The opening skit with Conan O'Brien, which showed Conan cleaning out his dressing room while Fallon prepared for the show, provided plenty of laughs.
And the music was incredible. Fallon pulled off the ultimate coup d'etat by getting The Roots as his house band. The uber-accomplished rap/R&B/soul group from Philadelphia showed off both their music and comedic chops Monday night.
In the highlight of the show, the band accompanied Fallon in a segment called "Slow Jammin' the News," where Fallon and lead-singer Tariq Trotter speak-sang about President Obama's stimulus package. Check out the video below:
Hopefully, music will remain a focus of the show. At the end of the night, Van Morrison, the musical guest, played a catchy song off his new album Astral Weeks. It was another of the few highlights. In another interview, Justin Timberlake did hilarious impressions of John Mayer and Michael McDonald.
It needs to keep improving. Obviously, there will be bumps in the road. "Lick it for $10," in which audience members licked a lawnmower or goldfish bowl for $10, has got to go. And no more interviews with the monosyllabic, terse De Niro.
But I know I'll watch again tonight. Tina Fey is on, so that's must-watch TV in itself. And opening night wasn't terrible, which is a good sign of things to come.