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TV Junkie: The Jimmy Fallon Experience; Weekend Must-Watch Plan

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Here's the wristband we wore to get into yesterday's taping of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in New York City. We apologize for our disgusting wrist-hair. [Photo by Thomas Attila Lewis]


Here's the wristband we wore to get into yesterday's taping of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in New York City. We apologize for our disgusting wrist-hair. [Photo by Thomas Attila Lewis]
Yesterday we went to see "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" as a member of the general public. We've been to a number of live tapings over the years but none have been as simple to get into as "Late Night" was. In mid-January we called the number at the show's website and were on the phone with a representative from the ticket office almost immediately. They gave us a wide date range of a bit over 2 weeks in February and we chose Thursday, February 10th as we were already going to be in New York City for other business. The ticket office was already able to tell me at that time that Jennifer Aniston and Piers Morgan were going to be two of the guests that evening.When you call to reserve tickets you have the option of getting up to 4 of tickets and the tickets are reserved with some basic personal information including an email address to send you a reminder notification. If you flake on appearing for your tickets you are banned from receiving tickets to any NBC show for (at least) 6 months. You will also not be allowed to attend the show if you bring along any shopping bags or backpacks or luggage (purses are OK) so leave those at your hotel or a friend's place.

Four business days before the show I was sent the email reminder that included a reservation number. I was required to print out the document and bring it with me at check-in at 30 Rock which happens at the NBC Experience Store in the cafe on the 2nd floor. Printing out the document seemed a little ridiculous in this wired age, particularly for a show that takes so much pride in its technology savvy as "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." If I can get on a plane by showing a barcode on my phone then why can't I show the email at check-in time? A very minor point but it's a very silly policy as you have to show matching photo ID.

Here are a couple pointers to remember if you have reserved tickets for the show and want to get good seats: 1. You can not check in unless all the members of your party are there. 2. Check in at the earliest possible time in order to be seated closest to the front of the studio audience, get to the pick-up spot at least 1 1/2 prior to the cutoff time. Yes, you might have an hour and a half before you have to assemble at 4:15pm but there are plenty of things to do around Rockefeller Center: lots of shops and restaurants as well as the famous promenade between 30 Rock, the ice rink, and 6th Avenue. There are also some incredible art deco murals inside of 30 Rock that are worth examining in detail as well as the beautifully designed trim, finials, and wall elements that hearken back to the when the building went up in 1939.

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Did I mention that all the people who direct you through this process of check-in and moving from one line to another are those famous NBC pages? I didn't encounter a page who wasn't friendly and informed throughout the afternoon. After a security check that served also as a friendly reminder to turn off all electronic devices we took the automated elevator upstairs to the "Late Night" set. Since my friend and I checked in later in the afternoon we were seated initially on the back row but were moved front and center to some held seats for the first 1/2 of the show. If you watched Fallon last night, we sat in the seats that the "Perm Week" guests occupied once they had finished their segment. This meant that we had great seats while the warm-up comic ....uh, warmed us up? [Forgive me for not remembering his name - he was very funny though] Then The Roots came out and did an amazing cover of Neil Young's "Down By The River" that rocked the place.

Announcer Steve Higgins then got onstage to some more warm-up and impressed us both with his banter and professionalism. The Roots kicked in and the show was on. Fallon came out to do his monologue which was a little difficult to hear in the studio. When Jimmy Fallon took over "Late Night" it was obvious that the monologue was a bit of a challenge for him. It has to be recognized that his monologue has vastly improved over the nearly 400 shows that he has done and it's also obvious that he works hard at this. There were definitely some highlights to his monologue but there were also some jokes that I just couldn't hear even though I wasn't that many rows back, which is a shame.

The "Reflections With Justin Bieber" video clip was particularly fun to watch in-studio as our warm-up comic identified an 18 year-old kid in our audience as a Bieber look-alike. That was a really well-produced clip as well and it was reassuring to see Bieber participate in a bit of self-effacing humor signifying hope he won't turn into some weird media-twisted freak.

Then we moved onto what we think Jimmy Fallon is strongest at in his role as a late night host: the guest segments. Yes, Fallon's impressions and performances in the video segments are excellent, but perhaps the most valued host skill is putting guests at ease and getting the best out of them for the in-studio and viewing audiences. Fallon has a remarkable talent in being able to create affinity and rapport with just about any guest (and studio volunteer!), whether it's laughing at himself or participating in any manner of joking around with them. He's made web-entrepreneur geeks look human and embarrassed college freshman look powerful. Perhaps his only true failure in this was when he had Robert De Niro in his premiere episode a couple years ago - De Niro is a difficult personality for anyone to wrangle, just look at what he did at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago. It seems that Fallon has the power to make anyone look like they are his friend and that they spend a ton of time hanging out together when, in reality, it's that everybody wants to be his friend in order to spend a ton of time hanging out together.

Guest-wise, it was a winner of an evening as Jennifer Aniston, an old hand at this sort of thing, perfectly balanced the funny with enough self-questioning to see her humanity despite the unrealistic celebrity mantle that blows her every move out of proportion. It's painfully obvious that she belongs on TV - not that she doesn't know how to do movies, but hopefully she will be brought on a show that's as challenging, funny, and interesting as Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback" or Matt LeBlanc's "Episodes." She participated in a game a charades on "Late Night" that was fun, but I kind of doubt that the young people that Aniston and Fallon were partnered with were actual audience members: I didn't see them in the audience outside the studio, I didn't see them in the audience on the inside of the studio, and when watching the show on my DVR, the way they blocked the audience out and the way they engaged with Fallon and Aniston seemed like they had some professional training - something that we even though Aniston commented upon. Not that any of this matters, as this was a very funny segment, and that was the whole point.

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Piers Morgan was also great as a guest as he has been on both sides of the late night desk as well as spent plenty of time in front of TV audiences. Even in the back row he projected well to us and really looked to the audience for real feedback during his time with Fallon. I think that because of the time spent with Aniston, the other segments felt a bit rushed, particularly that of "Top Chef" winner, Carla Hall who was nowhere near finished assembling her chicken pot pie when the credits rolled over her. In between each segment, the Roots played some amazing music, sometimes for several minutes as set pieces were moved out and/or writing changes were made.

Sitting in the back wasn't all that bad since when the show finished Jimmy Fallon made a circuit of the aisles, high-fiving and shaking hands - was there a glimmer of recognition when he came by me? I interviewed him briefly last summer? Probably not.

It's interesting to read comments about some of these late night shows from people who truly don't understand how they are put together. Being on set would have been fascinating from easy seat in the house, just watching the different cameras and mics get set up as well as the various show managers and directors doing their work to get the show on the air. In every nightly show there's at least 1/2 hour of original material written by the staff and that's five nights a week. When you look at your favorite 1/2 hour comedy on TV, that has about 22 minutes of material written by 10+ people and that show is on the air for 17-34 episodes per year. Fallon's team is doing almost 10x the amount of work with about the same writing staff. They have to write good jokes and they have to write a lot of them, they have to know up to the moment current events and pop culture as well. Contrast that with the world of "The Office" or "Cougar Town" which both exist in very delineated worlds operating on their own time.

I thoroughly recommend the experience for anyone visiting New York for a few days. Make the call, take your pick of the days available, and follow my few suggestions listed above and you will have a great time.

If you want to see one of the hardest working guys in showbiz along with the best band on late night TV, tomorrow night (Saturday) Jimmy Fallon and the Roots will be playing the pre-Grammy Jam Session at The Music Box in Hollywood.
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The TV Junkie Must Watch-Plan Weekend Edition: Tonight - "Real Time With Bill Maher" (Journalist Hooman Majd, correspondent Norah O'Donnell, Cornel West, Arianna Huffington, Matthew Perry), "Funny or Die Presents," "The Ricky Gervais Show," "The Soup," "Fashion Police," Letterman (Ed Helms, comic Ted Alexandro, The Dears perform), Fallon (Adam Sandler, actor Aziz Ansari, Mike Gordon performs). Saturday - "The Graham Norton Show" (Actress Kate Hudson; comic and actor Russell Kane; musician Tinie Tempah), "SNL" (Russell Brand, Chris Brown). Sunday - Grammys (first hour, meh), "Californication," "Episodes," "Shameless," "Big Love" (the later screening)