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Hey! Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that The Tonight Show, America’s longest running late night talk show, is once again being hosted by someone with more than a passing connection to Ireland?

Photo Credit: NBC.com

Photo Credit: NBC.com

‘Tis true. Jimmy Fallon’s Monday night takeover of the The Tonight Show…henceforth called “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon”…marks the return of an Irish American at the helm of this legendary programme. Now in its 60th year, the show has had six permanent hosts…four of them with roots firmly planted in the ould sod.

1. Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen, aka Steve Allen, 1954-1957. In his début show from NBC Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Center, Allen jokingly commented, “…this show is going to go on forever…”. How right he was! Back in the mid-50’s no one expected much from late night television, but Allen’s winning formula of monologue + comedy sketch + playful banter with audience and guests was a huge success. Everyone now, from David Letterman to Steven Colbert, owes a debt to Allen and his comedic innovation. Allen’s Irish roots came through his mother Isabelle Donohue, who went by the stage name Belle Montrose when she worked in vaudeville.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

2. Johnny Carson, 1962-1992. For thirty years, the last person millions of Americans saw before they turned-in for the evening was Johnny Carson. Revered for his affable personality and quick wit, Carson made his first appearance on The Tonight Show at the tender age of 33, as a guest host for Jack Paar. He took over the programme four years later and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. With Carson in command the show moved from New York to California, became a prime-time hit and a permanent fixture of American pop culture history. For his efforts, Carson was crowned “King of Late Night” television, received six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Carson’s Irish roots came from his mother, Ruth Hook Carson.

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Photo Credit: Zemanta

3. Conan O’Brien, June 2009-January 2010. Though his gig as host of The Tonight Show lasted only seven months, Conan O’Brien was funny and gracious right up to the very end. “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get,” he said, “But if you work really hard and you’re kind…amazing things will happen.” And so it was for O’Brien who, in a bizarre turn of events, replaced Jay Leno (who took over from Johnny Carson) and then handed back the reigns after both he and Leno failed to keep their ratings high enough for NBC executives. Leaving with a whopping $30-$45 million {most records of the event say he left with $42 million, but that’s never been confirmed} and his head held high, Conan turned his bitter-sweet time at The Tonight Show into a victory. He moved to TBS and is still there today. O’Brien’s Irish roots can be traced back through both his parents: Dr. Thomas O’Brien, a noted epidemiologist and Harvard professor, and Ruth Reardon O’Brien, a retired partner at the law firm Ropes & Gray LLP.

Photo Credit: Teamcoco.com

Photo Credit: Teamcoco.com

4. Jimmy Fallon February 2014 to Present. It’s only been a week but already things are looking well for Jimmy Fallon. With just the right mix of positivity, humour, honesty and energy…not to mention great guests…he has averaged 8.5 million viewers per night, making his version of The Tonight Show the most watched version of the franchise in 20 years.

On his first night as host, Fallon paid homage to his Irish-ness in a variety of ways: 1) delivering his monologue on a four-leaf clover etched into the floor of his newly refurbished studio {technically it should have been a three-leafed shamrock!}; 2) moving the show back to New York City {after 40 years of being in Burbank, California}, to Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Center…the original home of The Tonight Show {Irish superstitiousness}; and 3). having, as special guests, Irish band U2 perform their song “Invisible” at sunset on the rooftop of Rockefeller Center {quite stunning} and, later, “Ordinary Love” in studio. Fallon closed out his week with another musical icon, this time not Irish {best I can tell}, Justin Timberlake.

The two the  launched into the fifth edition of their popular “History of Rap” series from “Late Night” and the audience went wild. All in all…it was an excellent first week for Fallon and a solid furthering of America’s best late night show. Fallon, whose Irish roots stretch all the way back to Cork, Galway, Leitrim and Longford, come through his father’s side.

Notes:

Articles about the hosts of The Tonight Show here and here.

An excellent article about Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show in Vanity Fair at : http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/02/johnny-carson-the-tonight-show

Megan Smolenyak’s excellent article for Irish America magazine tracing the roots of Jimmy Fallon at: http://issuu.com/irishamerica/docs/fm14_complete_issue_r

Article in the Los Angeles Times online edition about U2’s performance at Jimmy Fallon’s inaugural night at http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-u2-brings-its-knack-for-spectacle-to-jimmy-fallon-20140218,0,3101612.story#ixzz2tkTLQI00

Article about Jimmy Fallon’s first night guests at http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-jimmy-fallon-tonight-show-debut-20140218,0,3134783.story#ixzz2tjWtSwtZ

Article in Today Entertainment online about how Justin Timberlake helps Jimmy Fallon close out his first week as host of The Tonight Show at http://www.today.com/entertainment/justin-timberlake-closes-jimmy-fallons-first-week-hosting-tonight-show-2D12155522

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